The House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a long-awaited bill to improve inland waterway infrastructure and advance efficiency of shipping agricultural goods within the U.S.
Voting 412-4 on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, the House's agreement gives way to an impending vote by the Senate. A conference report was released by committee members of both chambers on May 15.
Farm groups supported the House approval, highlighting the bill's importance to agricultural commerce. According to the National Corn Growers Association, more than 60% of the nation's grain exports are transported by barge.
"The locks and dams we depend upon to transport our cargoes today were built in the 1920s and 1930s," NCGA President Martin Barbre said in a released statement. "It is imperative that we improve this crucial infrastructure. The need is urgent; U.S. farmers and businesses rely upon this transportation channel. Infrastructure improvements fuel our domestic economy and improve our ability to compete in markets abroad."
Supported also by the National Grain and Feed Association, the group adds that the bill will change the funding mix for completing the Olmstead lock-and-dam project on the Ohio River, freeing up $56 million per year in industry-paid user fees to support restoration projects on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System, NGFA says.
Under the new bill, NGFA explained the federal government would assume 85% of the cost of completing the Olmstead project, with funds from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund – comprised of barge diesel fuel user fees – used to finance the remaining 15%.
The WRRDA was also pushed as a jobs bill, as it authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waterway projects and flood protection needs.
"Critically, this bill expands the Buy America requirements placed on future Army Corp projects, ensuring that more of our Nation’s infrastructure is made in America by Americans," House Transportation Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall, D-W.V., commented. "This provision in particular further defines this legislation as being about jobs—jobs to construct flood control projects, jobs to expand our harbors, jobs to make improvements to our waterways…"
Finally, the bill also includes language that addresses EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure regulations, exempting farmers who have on-farm oil storage facilities of 6,000 gallons or fewer from the regulation.
The bill is the first water resources measure to pass since 2007.