Congress reforms inland waterway infrastructure act

WASHINGTON — Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 with an overwhelming 412-4 vote in the House May 20 and 91-7 vote in the Senate May 22.

The conference report now heads to the White House where the president is expected to sign it.

The legislation is being hailed for addressing the need to improve the U.S. inland waterways system, and for streamlining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering permitting process, and other reforms that should significantly reduce costs and project delays.

“Our locks and dams transport our cargoes today, but were built in the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate far smaller loads and far less river traffic,” said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre. “We must improve our infrastructure, and we must do it now.”

More than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge.

Back to work

The conference report authorizes 34 water resources projects that have completed the technical review by the Corps of Engineers and are recommended by the Chief of Engineers.

To offset the costs of new authorizations, the conference report establishes a process that deauthorizes $18 billion in old, inactive projects previously authorized, prioritizing the oldest projects that have been inactive the longest. After a 180-day period of Congressional review, the projects are automatically deauthorized.

Public-private partnerships

The conference report increases flexibility for non-federal interests and leverages private sector investments to increase the effect of federal funding.

Specifically, the bill strengthens the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund Program and establishes water infrastructure public-private partnership pilot programs to finance construction of at least 15 authorized water resources development projects.

Finally, it maximizes the ability of non-federal project sponsors to contribute their own funds to move studies and projects forward.

Fuel storage provision

The bill contains a provision that will ease the burden of the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure rule.

The current EPA SPCC rule for farms requires compliance if an operation has 1,320 gallons, or more, of aboveground fuel storage and allows self-certification up to 10,000 gallons.

This not only includes fuel storage but requires aboveground feed storage to be included in the total if it meets the broad definition of “oil,” which includes the base of many liquid cattle feeds.

Under the provision in the new WRRDA legislation, the aggregate aboveground fuel exemption limit is raised to 6,000 gallons for operations with no history of spills and no single tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons or more from having to develop a plan.

The provision will require a self-certified plan for operations that have aggregate aboveground fuel storage above 6,000 and below 20,000 gallons with no history of spills and no single tank capacity of 10,000 gallons or more.

The legislation exempts fuel tanks with a capacity of 1,000 gallons or less and all tanks that hold animal feed ingredients from the aggregate calculations.

Those operations that do not meet these exemptions will require a Spill Containment Plan, certified by a professional engineer.

Researching risk

The legislation also calls for a study to be conducted by the EPA and the USDA within one year of the bill becoming law to determine whether the 6,000 gallon aggregate above-ground storage exemption level poses a significant risk of a discharge to waters of the U.S. by agricultural operations.

Based on the results of that study, the exemption level may be lowered from 6,000 gallons, but cannot be lowered below 2,500 gallons.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing this legislation would cost $12.3 billion over the 2015-2024 period. This cost is fully offset by $18 billion in project deauthorizations contained in the bill.

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