On November 8, speaking at the Port of New Orleans, President Obama said “… corn and wheat is coming down from my home state of Illinois down the river, ending up here and then going all around the world. And it’s part of the reason we’ve been able to increase exports so rapidly is because we have some of the best natural resources and waterways and facilities in the world.”
This was a victory for the inland waterways industry because while the President has recognized ports, dams, levees, trains, trucks and other transportation infrastructure, he has not, heretofore, underscored the value of the inland waterways.
The President’s recognition of the inland waterways comes on the heels of the Statement of Administration Policy in support of House passage in October of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).
Last May, the Senate approved its version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), S. 601. The bills will next head to conference to reconcile the two versions. Senate leaders announced that Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and Ranking Member David Vitter will lead the Senate conference committee on the final WRDA/WRRDA bill. Joining Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter are Democratic Senators Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Carper (De.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Republican conferees are Senators James Inhofe (Okla.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.).
The House named its conferees on November 14 as follows: Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), fellow T&I Committee members John Duncan (R-Tenn.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Candice Miller (R-Mich.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) were also named.
Democratic conferees are T&I Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and T&I Committee members Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Corrine Brown (Fla.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Janice Hahn (Calif.), Rick Nolan (Minn.), Lois Frankel (Fla.) and Cheri Bustos (Ill.). House Natural Resources Committee member Grace Napolitano (Calif.) was also named.
Once decided, a final water resources reauthorization bill will head to the President for his signature into law that should ultimately make great strides in modernizing our 1920’s/1930’s-era locks and dams to be ready for 21st century (and beyond) cargoes. It will also modernize our harbors, ports and shipping channels.
One provision likely to be missing from a final bill is an increase in the user fee that inland towboat operators pay that is matched by Federal dollars and spent on new construction and major rehabilitation of the lock and dam system. By regular order, the House must initiate revenue measures, so the provision was missing from the Senate’s bill. When the House introduced WRRDA in September, it did not include this user fee increase. The House Ways & Means Committee has said this provision is best suited to be included as part of comprehensive tax reform legislation. Industry hopes it can be added to faster-moving legislation such as a tax extenders bill that may move at year’s end. Our locks and dams need greater investment, the industry is willing to pay more of its fair-share, and the time is now.
Let’s hope the holidays bring the gift of final bipartisan water resources reauthorization that can be celebrated every two years, rather than the six years since the last one in 2007. WR(R)DA truly is the gift that keeps on giving to the nation.
(As published in the December 2013 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com)