According to National Corn Growers Association Director of Public Policy Lisa Kelley, the Water Resources Development Act should finally meet all necessary Senate-required procedural steps this week.
"The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have received ten amendments to the WRDA bill, with the amendments being considered during a floor debate," Kelley says. "We are optimistic with the pace of work on this bill, and I would expect to see the Senate take up the bill no later than early to mid-July."
The 10 amendments include four amendments from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., relating to "Corps reform." To counter the McCain-Feingold amendments, Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., have two amendments providing alternative approaches to project peer review and project prioritization. Three of the remaining amendments are parochial or address a regional issue. The final amendment is a "manager's amendment," developed under the bipartisan leadership of the Senate EPW Committee to address outstanding issues of concern raised since the bill's introduction last year.
The next steps in the process are for Republicans and Democrats to hotline the bill and finalize a time agreement, which are expected to be completed by the end of the week. Kelley noted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., can schedule the bill for a vote at any time after the hotline is completed.
Kelley highlighted the work is not done. "We are continuing to urge our growers to keep the pressure on Senator Frist to schedule floor time as soon as this process comes to completion," she says. "Additionally, we are analyzing the impact of proposed Corps reform amendments and will work to defeat those that create unnecessary bureaucracy and hinder the promise of expanded trade and commercial growth."
As a side note, according to a recent Waterways Council, Inc. newsletter, the European Commission has adopted an action plan to increase utilization of its inland waterways. "With a fleet of 11,000 vessels and a capacity equaling 10,000 trains or 440,000 trucks, inland waterways can make transport in Europe more efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly," says Jacques Barrot, the EC's vice president for transport. "Europe cannot afford to leave that potential untapped."
Europe's plan focuses on increasing market share, modernizing the fleet, attracting skilled labor, improving the sector's image and building new infrastructure.
"While we are happy to see lock modernization authorization coming to fruition, corn growers are frustrated by the lack of national focus on our transportation networks," Kelley says. "We have long known that water transportation is more efficient and is better for the environment. We now see the European Commission advancing policies to utilize their inland waterways more - something the U.S. should have done long ago."
Kelley also notes there was a time when the United States maintained the finest infrastructure in the world for transporting commodity grain.
"A network of rivers and rail efficiently transported grain from the Corn Belt to export markets around the world," she says. "No one benefited more from efficient and cost effective transportation than the corn grower. But times have changed."