The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly, 417-3, to approve H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA).
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a press release that the bill “cuts federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamlines the infrastructure project delivery process, fosters fiscal responsibility, and strengthens water transportation networks to promote America’s competitiveness, prosperity and economic growth.
"Through WRRDA," the committee continued, "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 waterways 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," the committee said.
Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., heralded the passage of the bill.
“WRRDA is the most policy and reform focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” he said. “This bill contains no earmarks, cuts red tape for improvements that will strengthen our economic competitiveness, streamlines the infrastructure review process, and deauthorizes $12 billion of outdated projects in order to more than fully offset new authorized corps activities. Fundamentally, this bill is about jobs. Not just the jobs in constructing these improvements to our infrastructure, but current and future jobs that will depend on a modern, efficient transportation system that will allow American businesses to compete and prosper in a global marketplace.”
Committee Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II, D-W.V., said the bill "stops the finger in the dike solutions to our water infrastructure challenges."
Kurt Nagel, the president of the American Association of Port Authorities, commended the leadership of Schuster, Rayhall, Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., as well as House Speaker John Boehner. Nagel noted the bill now needs to be conferenced with the Senate’s version and signed into law by the president.
“More than a quarter of America’s annual GDP is based on the value of goods that transit in and out of our ports. In order to keep our economic recovery progressing, we must ensure these goods can move efficiently, without avoidable and costly delays caused by inadequate or poorly maintained infrastructure,” said Nagel.
AAPA said both the WRRDA bill passed today by the House, and the Senate version (S.601), which passed in May, have provisions that address a number of the needs of America’s seaports. AAPA said the House version would "set targets for increased use of federal Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) collections to better maintain the nation’s deep-draft shipping channels, while providing more equity for ports whose shippers pay more in HMT taxes than are required for maintaining those ports’ channels."
Nagel added that "increased investments are needed to better maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure on our three coasts and the Great Lakes, linking America to the global marketplace."
Funds collected by the HMT, a 0.125-percent ad valorem tax on the value of imported or domestic cargo moving through seaports (exports are excluded from the tax), go into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The fund is supposed to be used for maintenance dredging, but only about half of the money collected gets spent for its intended purpose. The rest remains in the trust fund where it helps reduce the federal deficit.
For years, legislators and port advocates have been trying to get all the money in the trust fund spent on maintenance dredging, or at least for all the money collected by the tax in each year spent on maintenance dredging because so many of the ports around the country have seen their channels silt up.
Meanwhile, advocates for geographically advantaged ports that need little dredging — including many of the large ports on the West Coast — have complained about a lack of “equity” because, while a lot of the harbor maintenance tax is collected on cargo moving across their docks, they see little of that money.
“There are ports where the tax revenues that are collected in their eyes don’t come back to the port, but it was not really designed that way, it was designed to be a national trust fund for maintenance dredging of all ports,” said Barry Holliday, chairman of Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Fairness Coalition.
Holliday added, “We are real pleased with the progress and the bipartisan support for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. We look forward to conferencing something that will be effective for future increases to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenues. We would like to see all the funds used for the intended purpose of maintenance dredging, but we know at this point we have to appreciate the efforts that have been extended to get us moving to a higher amount.”
AAPA said the WRRDA bill will:
- Give the private sector, as well as state and local agencies, more flexibility to advance funding for channel improvement projects by eliminating key roadblocks that non-federal entities must overcome when they want to contribute to project costs.
- Authorize and advance those federal-channel improvement projects that have a completed Corps of Engineers’ Chief’s Report and that would otherwise be delayed without WRRDA, while complying with the House earmark moratorium.
- Revise Army Corps of Engineers procedures to accelerate waterside infrastructure projects and studies.
The House T&I Committee said the bill:
- Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies
- Consolidates or eliminates duplicate or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews
- Streamlines environmental reviews
- Deauthorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to WRDA 2007
- Fully offsets new authorizations with deauthorizations
- Sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs
- Reduces the inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the corps
- Establishes a new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight
- Maximizes the ability of non-federal interests to contribute their own funds to move authorized studies and projects forward
- Expands the ability of non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite the evaluation and processing of permits
- Establishes a Water Infrastructure Public Private Partnership Program
- Authorizes needed investments in America’s ports
- Supports under-served, emerging ports
- Reforms and preserves the Inland Waterways Trust Fund
- Authorizes priority water resources infrastructure improvements recommended by the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation and commerce and address flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and environmental restoration needs
The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) said the bill provides a “framework and reforms to prevent projects like the Charleston Harbor deepening from incurring unnecessary delays.”
SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said, "WRRDA will expedite review processes to keep projects like Charleston's Post-45 Harbor Deepening from facing unnecessary delays and will help provide maintenance funding for emerging ports like Georgetown."
SCPA Board Chairman Bill Stern expressed hope that the legislation that emerges from the conference committee will include “language that removes barriers to the construction phase of harbor-deepening projects, includes funding for emerging ports, and increases the threshold for federal maintenance from 45 feet to 50 feet. We continue to believe that the Charleston Harbor deepening project will compete well for funding when a merit-based approach is implemented to address needed port-modernization projects."
The Charleston Post-45 Harbor Deepening is in the study phase, and the Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District plans to finish its Chief's Report by September 2015.
Waterways Council, a group that advocates for the improvement and maintenance of ports and inland waterways, also offered thanks to the bipartisan efforts of Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., the co-sponsors of H.R. 1149, "WAVE 4: Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency and the Environment."
It said H.R. 3080 had incorporated several WAVE 4 provisions to reform the project delivery processes of the Army Corps of Engineers; create a prioritization of authorized improvements based upon the risk of failure and economic return to the nation; and provide needed adjustments to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) to allow funds to flow to construct authorized projects by changing the cost-share formula for the Olmsted locks and dam project in Illinois and Kentucky.
"WRRDA reduces the amount to be paid from the IWTF to complete the Olmsted project from 50 percent to 25 percent of the project’s remaining construction costs. The navigation industry pays half of the cost of new construction and major rehabilitation of lock and dam projects from the IWTF, with the full majority of those funds going toward Olmsted’s completion, with 24 other priority projects in need of funding."
WRRDA’s focus on increasing the spending of monies from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for channel dredging and port modernization was also applauded by WCI as a win for the U.S. waterways transportation network.
“The nation’s towboat operators, shippers, labor, port, conservation and agriculture group members that rely on an efficient, modern, viable waterways system are deeply appreciative for the passage of WRRDA,” said Michael Toohey, WCI's president and chief executive officer.
Since the Senate bill was passed, senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell in September introduced legislation
aimed at replacing the Harbor Maintenance Tax with a "Maritime Goods Movement User Fee" that would also be collected on cargo moving through Canadian or Mexican ports and crossing into the U.S. over land boundaries.
A spokesman said for Murray said the two senators continue to seek support for their proposal.