By Bobby Frederick, Director of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on May 15 approved legislation to increase federal funding for locks, dams and ports by a bipartisan voice vote.
The fiscal year 2020 House energy and water development appropriations bill includes $46.6 billion in funding, including $7.36 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – 52 percent more than the president’s budget request. Of particular importance to NGFA members, the legislation allows for full use of the receipts estimated to be collected in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and $3.92 billion for operations and maintenance – another record high. Finally, the legislation includes $1.697 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port dredging, which is $100 million more than the target set by the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRDA).
The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to act on the bill on May 21 and likely will advance it to the House floor in June.
The NGFA this week, on the recommendation of its Waterborne Commerce Committee, endorsed the full utilization of fees collected in the HMTF for dredging and maintenance of harbors and ports. The HMTF currently has a surplus of more than $9 billion that has gone unspent for its intended purpose. The NGFA supports the “Full Utilization of the HMTF Act of 2019” (H.R. 2440), introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Sam Graves, R-Mo., as well as the efforts of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to achieve this same policy goal in the Senate.
In its letter of support, the NGFA wrote: “The inability, so far, to access and spend these dollars on dredging is a missed opportunity that further erodes the U.S.’ once sharp comparative infrastructure advantage.”
The NGFA will continue to advocate strongly during the appropriations process and urge Congress and the administration to formulate a substantially funded infrastructure package as soon as possible.