Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn., Friday announced that the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – legislation that could improve Mississippi River infrastructure – is in the works for full consideration in the House by October.
Both Shuster and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, noted further that the bill will likely be marked up shortly after August recess. According to a committee statement, Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor support the bill's timeline.
The ag industry closely watched the Senate's version of the Water Resources Act, which passed in May, because it offered provisions that could ease agricultural shipping burdens and partially alleviate Environmental Protection Agency fuel storage restrictions.
Because full text of the House bill isn't available, it's not clear if similar provisions will appear in the House version. However, Shuster said last week during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Milwaukee, Wis., that the legislation will "make major reforms to increase transparency, accountability, and Congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development activities."
Water resources legislation traditionally focused on supporting waterway infrastructure, but a new bill addressing current needs hasn't been passed since 2007. Congress used to consider bills to authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studies and construction activities every two years.
"While it once took the Corps of Engineers three to five years to complete a study, it has now become the norm for this process to take 10 to 15 years. The unwieldy review process remains tied up in red tape, costing us time and money and preventing action. We need to change the way the Corps of Engineers does business, and WRRDA will do that," Shuster said.
Shuster said he expects the bill to also break down barriers to non-federal investment in water resources, recognizing that financial resources are limited.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, conditions remain poor and investment levels stagnant for inland waterways.
Updated once every four years, the report card graded the nation's ports as a C, inland waterways a D-, dams a D, and levees a D-.
According to the group, the nation’s inland waterways and rivers carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year, though many ports have not been updated since the 1950s. There are an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the inland waterway system, and a backlog of projects with estimated completion dates stretching to the year 2090.