LAST Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House members introduced water resources reform legislation that helps take significant strides toward reinvesting in domestic infrastructure and includes provisions welcomed by the agriculture industry.
H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform & Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA), was introduced by House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), committee ranking member Nick J. Rahall II (D., W.Va.), water resources and environment subcommittee chairman Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) and subcommittee ranking member Tim Bishop (D., N.Y.).
The committee has scheduled a markup of the bill for Sept. 19.
The Senate passed its Water Resources Development Act in May of this year by a vote of 83-14. House floor action is expected in October. The House and Senate versions have many similarities, which may make passage this year possible.
Through WRRDA, Congress authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its missions to develop, maintain and support the nation's vital port and waterway infrastructure needs and support effective and targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs.
Historically, Congress has passed such legislation every two years to provide clear direction to the Administration and the Corps, but no bill has been signed into law since 2007.
Specifically, the House bill streamlines environmental reviews and establishes hard deadlines and cost caps on project studies. It also allows non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite project components.
Another sought-after provision allows for an increase in the amount of funding that is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port maintenance and dredging.
The bill also frees up money and increases the capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by reducing the federal cost share of the Olmsted Lock & Dam project to 25% and requiring the Corps to study and report on bonding, user fees and other potential funding sources.
"WRRDA 2013 is the most policy- and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades," Shuster said. "The bill contains no earmarks and makes major programmatic reforms to increase transparency, accountability and congressional oversight of federal water resources development activities. A strong, effective water transportation network is essential to keeping pace with other nations that are improving their own infrastructure networks and gaining ground in an increasingly competitive global marketplace."
Bishop added that the bipartisan legislation is an "important first step in addressing the challenges facing our nation's harbor and inland waterway infrastructure, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to enhance the levels of investment we make to support American competitiveness."
"This bill changes the way the Corps of Engineers does business," Gibbs said. "We have been literally studying infrastructure projects to death. While it once took the Corps three to five years to complete a study, it has become normal for this process to take 10-15 years. WRRDA cuts the red tape, streamlines reviews and accelerates the lengthy process, saving us precious time and money and allowing infrastructure improvements to move forward."
In a statement, American Soybean Assn. president Danny Murphy praised the bill's introduction, saying, "U.S. soybean farmers rely on a healthy waterways infrastructure to move their soybeans to market. The U.S. exports more than half of the soybeans grown in this country, and having reliable and efficient waterways and ports is essential to maintaining our competitiveness in global markets. We are encouraged by many parts of the WRRDA bill and will work to see it passed."