Tuesday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment held a hearing, “The Foundations for a New Water Resources Development Act.”
In his opening statement, Congressman Bill Shuster, R., Penn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expressed the importance of inland waterways to the soybean industry, “I was visiting with the soybean folks and they explained to me how it costs $85.19 to ship a metric ton of soybeans down the Mississippi from Davenport, Iowa, through Louisiana's ports, and on to Shanghai, China. It costs Brazil $141.73 to ship the same amount of soybeans approximately the same distance. However, Brazil is planning to invest $26 billion to modernize its ports and has begun major investments in its waterways so that it can better compete with the United States.”
The hearing including a panel of officials from the National Waterways Conference, the American Association of Port Authorities, the Waterways Council, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, and others.
One of the topics discussed during the hearing was the need for Congress to become more active in the process of prioritizing projects and initiatives carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. Ever since Congress decided to no longer appropriate funds via the earmark process, the administration has played a larger role in determining which projects to emphasize.
“Congress cannot continue to abdicate its constitutional responsibility in determining what projects should go forward and should reassert itself in the face of an administration that creates one-sized-fits-all policy with little or no transparency,” explained Congressman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a collection of public laws enacted by Congress to address various aspects of water resources: navigational, flood protection, hydrology, environmental, etc. Congress has historically completed a WRDA every two years. However, the last WRDA was passed in 2007 after a congressional override of a veto from President George W. Bush.
Despite the widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the inland waterway system to the viability of the U.S. economy overall, including the ag industry, the condition of the nation's lock and dam inventory continues to degrade, the Soybean Transportation Coalition said. "Significant time, energy, and resources have been devoted by agriculture and other stakeholders to promote increased investment in the system, yet progress remains elusive. A recent study funded by the soybean checkoff suggests that it may be time to reevaluate how our nation manages and finances our lock and dam inventory," STC said in a weekly Washington Report newsletter.