The House Wednesday evening showed bipartisan agreement can be possible with a 417-3 vote on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a bill to realign funding for inland waterways and ease restrictions for Army Corps projects.
Many farm groups supported the bill, as did the White House. It will now move to conference, as the Senate passed its own version of the bill in May.
The bill includes provisions that will streamline environmental reviews, establish hard deadlines and cost caps on project studies, allow non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite project components, annually increase the amount of funding that is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port maintenance and dredging, and free up money and increase the capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
The bill also opens up the potential for private investment in waterways by requiring the Corps to study and report on bonding, user fees, and other potential funding sources.
The ag industry, which ships out 60% of grain grown by U.S. farmers for export via inland waterways, according to the American Farm Bureau Association, largely saw House passage as another step to improving waterway transportation.
"Having an efficient and reliable inland waterway system linked to competitive ports is vital to America's ability to provide affordable farm products domestically and to compete internationally," AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. "New projects for flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to the nation's aging locks and dams infrastructure authorized under WRRDA are long overdue."
Similarly, American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy got behind the bill, thanking key House members for their support and reiterating waterways' importance to the agriculture and soybean industries.
"Soybeans are the nation's leading farm export, and each bushel we export depends on our waterways infrastructure, whether that's in the form of a river channel, a lock and dam, or a port," Murphy noted. "Unfortunately, in recent years, each of those elements has begun to suffer due to lack of upkeep and investment, and this bill takes a great step to reversing that trend."
Though largely supported, the bill shows some differences when compared to the Senate version that may affect agriculture.
One example is a Senate provision to exempt farms that store oil and other substances in above-ground tanks from federal oil spill regulations. The amendment would set storage tank thresholds below which agricultural operations would be excluded from U.S. EPA's Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule.
The last waterways bill was passed in 2007.
News source: ASA