The American Farm Bureau Federation on Friday urged Congress to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act and make more funds available for harbor infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.
"There are no trucks or trains to Asia," Steve Baccus, chairman of the association's Trade Advisory Committee, said following a visit to the Port of Oakland, according to a joint news release by both parties. "In order to reach those consumers and compete in the world market, we must invest in port infrastructure."
Oakland is one of a handful of U.S. ports where exports outpace imports. It is a major exit point for agricultural products from California and other parts of the country. In 2012, about $6.74 billion in agricultural products were exported through the Port of Oakland. Agricultural exports represented 48 percent of the total value of exports moving through the port.
Agriculture is especially dependent on deep harbors because grain, apples and other commodities are heavy and cause vessels to ride lower in the water. Without adequate depths, many vessels cannot load to their full capacity, which increases shipping costs for everyone else.
The Senate passed a WRDA bill in May and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently sent its Water Resources "Reform" and Development Act to the full House for a vote. The bills would allocate more user fees from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be applied to maintenance dredging, streamline how the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies review projects to speed up approvals, open up the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to more lock and dam projects rather than concentrating disbursements on a single mega-repair and identify new candidates eligible to receive funding for deepening navigational channels. The bill has bipartisan support in the House and passage of a final bill that can also clear the Senate appeared possible this session until the government shutdown on Tuesday.
Congress is now preoccupied with coming up with a stopgap spending bill to temporarily fund government operations for several weeks by overcoming disagreements on whether to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 law on health insurance pushed by President Obama. Lawmakers must also deal with the looming debt-ceiling crisis. On Oct. 17, the federal government will default on its debt unless it can borrow more money to pay its bills, but a faction of House Republicans is insisting on spending cuts and defunding the Affordable Care Act before following through on what is usually a routine exercise to pay for prior government bills. The problems are so immediate that they likely will leave little time for lawmakers to consider other measures.