U.S. House Passes Waterways Bill – What Does it Mean for Agriculture? – DTN

The House passed the Water Resources Development Act late Wednesday by a vote of 399 to 25.

In the short term, the bill will be known for a provision providing funding to address water problems in Flint, Michigan. The decision to add it was made by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and allowed Congress to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9 and leave Washington until after the Nov. 8 election.  

But the core of the WRDA bill is authorization for the inland waterway system, barge transportation and ports that are important to agriculture.

The bill must still be conferenced with the Senate bill in the lame-duck session.

Waterways Council Inc. President and CEO Michael Toohey said the group was “gratified” by the House action and urged both houses to reach agreement on a conference report that President Barack Obama can sign “to create and sustain American jobs, increase exports, keep our nation competitive in world markets, and enhance the reliability of this essential waterways mode.”

WCI noted that the bill provides for WCI priorities of Calcasieu Lock modifications in Louisiana, deepening of Brazos Island Harbor (Brownsville Ship Channel) in Texas, and the Upper Ohio Study that allows the Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery (EDM) lock project near Pittsburgh to advance.

Neither the House version nor the Senate version contains “an onerous provision to create a public-private partnership that could have imposed waterways tolls or lockage fees, resulting in an adverse change in the cost-sharing mechanism for the inland waterways transportation system,” WCI said.

The National Grain and Feed Association noted that Congress enacted a “sweeping and significant WRDA bill in 2014 and now appears committed to completing a bill every two years.”

The House’s WRDA bill authorizes 31 “Chief’s Reports,” or final recommendations from the Army Corps of Engineers to Congress on infrastructure project priorities, NGFA noted. The House bill also continues to allow full spending of annual receipts of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be utilized by 2025, and also makes permanent a 10% set aside of trust fund resources for small ports, the group added.

Mike Steenhoek, the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said the group “appreciated” the action, “but it is not the finish line.” Steenhoek pointed out that often the struggle with inland waterways comes from funding the programs passed in a WRDA bill.

“The tradition breakdown in Congress has been the appropriations process — not providing sufficient funding to fulfill the objectives prescribed in the WRDA bill,” Steenhoek noted. “As a result, the passage of a WRDA bill is appreciated, but it is not the finish line. We need to continue to advocate for this issue throughout the appropriations process.

National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara said the group was pleased that the bill contains money to address the Flint water crisis and that the group “will insist the version coming out of conference includes the Senate’s $100 million in dedicated, immediate funding for Flint.”

O’Mara added, “We are pleased that both the House and Senate bills include key efforts to restore Great Lakes, the Everglades and the Los Angeles River. The Senate bill authorizes additional restoration efforts in the Delaware River Basin, the Long Island Sound, and Lake Tahoe.

“As the bill moves to conference, we will work to ensure all these worthy initiatives are included in the final bill.

“We are also pleased the House bill encourages the Army Corps to more fully consider the use of natural and nature-based design features, such as using wetlands or natural areas for flood control, wherever appropriate in its projects. Nature-based solutions are a proven, cost-effective way to protect communities while conserving habitat for wildlife.

“We also look forward to working with the conferees to prevent the destruction of fish and wildlife habitat and release of toxic pollutants into our nation’s waters, resulting from unnecessary or poorly designed dredging projects.

“To this end, we are pleased the final House bill ultimately removed a provision relating to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that would have encouraged, regardless of need, the dredging of ports and harbors across the country. We also oppose the authorization of the Port Everglades dredging project, which as currently proposed will cause significant harm to the region’s irreplaceable coral reefs.”

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at ask@dtn.com

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