U.S. House approves bill to fund Army Corps water projects

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation Oct. 23 to authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to continue developing and maintaining infrastructure for the nation’s ports and waterways, while also supporting flood control and environmental restoration.

The House approved the $8.2 billion Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, by a vote of 417-3.

The Senate passed its $12 billion version of the bill May 15 known as the Water Resources Development Act, by a vote of 83-14.

Historically, Congress has passed such legislation every two years but no similar bill has been signed into law since 2007.

Bill sponsors

The House bill was introduced by Transportation and 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, as well as Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.

The bill’s sponsors touted it as something that “cuts federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamlines the infrastructure project delivery process, fosters fiscal responsibility, and strengthens our water transportation networks.”

Farm groups praised the House’s effort, but said it’s also time for the Senate and House to come to a conference, so the act can move forward.

Critical issue

It is estimated that more than 60 percent of grain grown in the United States for export is transported via inland waterways, and 95 percent of farm exports and imports move through U.S. harbors.

“The United States’ system of waterways helps Ohio farmers ship their products around the world, adding to an agricultural trade surplus that keeps jobs here in Ohio and the U.S.,” said Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. “We now ask the U.S. House and Senate to quickly come together to join in conference to work out the differences on the bill to see it reach final package.”

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said having an efficient and reliable inland waterway system “is vital to America’s ability to provide affordable farm products domestically and to compete internationally.”

The American Soybean Association said in recent years, the infrastructure and waterways upkeep has begun to suffer “due to lack of upkeep and investment.”

The ASA said the House bill “takes a great step to reversing that trend.”

ASA said it is hopeful the Senate and House will get the bill conferenced and sent to the president before the end of the year. It is unclear when such conference may take place.What’s included.

The following are some of the key provisions of the House bill:

•  Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies, consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews.

•  Deauthorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to WRDA 2007, fully offsets new authorizations with deauthorizations.

•  Reduces the inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the Corps.

•  Provides no earmarks, establishes a new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight.Non-federal interests.

•  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.

•  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.

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