Water Resources Bill Moving Along in U.S. Congress
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. Congress approved a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 toward the end of May, marking the successful jump of another hurdle for the legislation.
A Senate committee cleared its version of the bill in late April. The measure is expected to be considered by the full House and Senate this month.
WRDA authorizes $9 billion of funding for maintenance and improvements to the nation’s water infrastructure, including $3.4 billion for the new construction of 25 water resources projects. The bill covers everything from ports and waterways to fisheries and drinking water projects.
American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) CEO Kurt Nagle said that among the most important aspects of this legislation is that it puts WRDA back on an every-two-year cycle, avoiding a backlog of projects and adopting policy changes to make the system work more efficiently and fairly.
“Ensuring the viability and effectiveness of our nation’s deep-draft navigation infrastructure is fundamental to a sound economy,” said Nagle. “WRDA 2016 helps do that by getting Congress back to the business of regularly addressing the needs of our ports and other waterway infrastructure.”
“This bill is not only fully paid for, it prioritizes projects to improve ports and waterways for increased global competitive advantage,” said Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), one of the bills sponsors in the Senate. “Each year, $1.4 trillion worth of goods moves through our nation’s ports, and this number will only grow as our trade volume is expected to double within a decade. In order to set our economy up for success, Congress must provide steady support and thorough oversight of our inland water and marine transportation system by authorizing WRDA every two years.”
The Senate bill provided a three-year extension in the small ports set-aside in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). A ten-percent set-aside for small ports provided in 2014 legislation, scheduled to expire in 2022, will remain in place through 2025 under the Senate bill.
WRDA 2016, if passed, will continue the progress made with the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 which moved towards full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax. That development, said Nagle “is essential to maintain a world-class 21st century port navigation system and provide more donor equity.”
In the last, a large portion of HMTF revenue, which is collected by taxing the value of cargo, was left unspent or redirected to other congressional priorities. “While the 2014 water resources bill made strides in fixing this problem, the reforms are non-binding and allow large balances to persist,” said Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
The current legislation “advances additional reforms by converting the funds to mandatory spending, ensuring the money is delivered as intended,” Wytkind added. “This change will help our struggling ports accommodate growing cargo demand and increasingly larger ships. With the Panama Canal expansion nearing completion, this legislation is particularly timely.”
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