The House on Wednesday (June 6) overwhelmingly approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA), H.R. 8, the first major infrastructure legislation to move under the Trump administration.
WRDA focuses on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, authorizing new projects and permitting the full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to finance port dredging and other port projects. The House-passed WRDA would accomplish the latter objective by moving the HMTF off-budget to allow for full-use of HMTF funds to be used solely for harbor-maintenance purposes.
The bill also contains a National Academies of Science (NAS) report requirement, directing that the independent entity report to Congress on the current organizational structure of the Corps’ Civil Works functions and identify impediments to efficient waterway project delivery and recommendations for improvement.
The bill does not contain the barge lockage and tolling fee proposals advocated by the Trump administration in its fiscal year 2019 proposed budget, which were opposed strongly by NGFA and waterway groups.
The White House said it would support the bill, but took issue with the six new construction projects and 12 new studies the measure would authorize. “Given the large number of authorized projects that have not been started or completed, new project and study authorizations should be limited to those most likely to provide high economic or environmental returns,” the administration said in a Statement of Administration Policy.
The Senate is expected to consider its version of the WRDA bill, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 2800) later this summer. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its broader version of water infrastructure legislation earlier in May. The bill would require the Corps to provide Congress with an annual work plan and projected budget for four years into the future to ensure projects get funded. The Senate bill also calls for NAS to conduct a study to examine how the Corps can increase transparency in cooperating with Congress, state and local governments, stakeholders, and other cost-sharing partners.
The NGFA is a vocal advocate for improvements and continued investments to the U.S. inland waterways infrastructure, which are a competitive advantage necessary for U.S. agriculture to compete in global markets. An efficient waterborne transportation system is critical for the movement of U.S. agricultural exports and the positive contribution they make to the economy. These issues will be addressed at the upcoming Agricultural Transportation Summit, scheduled for July 25-26 in Arlington, Va., which will focus on “Connecting Growing Supply with Growing Demand” and feature panels highlighting port issues, as well as top officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.