The U.S. Senate today passed S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, in an 83-14 majority vote, with three members abstaining. The bill now moves to the House.
The WRDA bill would authorize federal spending on port improvements, flood protection, dam and levee projects and environmental restoration, The Washington Post reports. It would sanction more than 20 new Army Corps of Engineers projects, some aimed at making ports more accessible, in line with the completion of the Panama Canal widening in 2015. It would also ensure that more money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, financed by user fees, are directed toward harbor improvements; set up a new program to promote levee safety and inland waterway projects; take steps to expedite the environmental review process; and create a commission to make recommendations on defunding old, uncompleted projects.
The legislation was introduced and managed by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“I am gratified by the overwhelming vote on final passage of our WRDA bill,” Boxer said in a released statement. “Getting 83 votes in favor when bipartisanship is missing in the Senate is very important. Now is the time for the House to act so we can ensure that the benefits of the bill are realized.”
Several stakeholders have already applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill:
“Sens. Boxer and Vitter recognize the significant benefits more modern, efficient seaport and waterway infrastructure will have on our nation’s economic vitality, job growth and international competitiveness, as well as its value in helping address federal fiscal realities through sizable tax revenue provided by the cargo and trade activity moving through these systems,” said Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, in a written brief. “Increased investments are needed to better maintain and improve the transportation infrastructure on our three coasts and the Great Lakes, linking America to the global marketplace.”
Meanwhile, the Waterways Council commended the inclusion of several provisions of the Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act, S. 407, which would modernize inland waterways lock and dam infrastructure. Specifically, WRDA includes elements from the RIVER Act to remove the overbudget and delayed Olmsted lock and dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which will free up around $750 million to complete other navigation projects. An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was also approved, as well as the prioritization of navigation projects and revamping of project delivery processes.
However, WCI noted the bill does not include a provision to increase the diesel fuel user fee, as revenue enhancement measures must originate in the House.
The National Association of Manufacturers had also been pushing for approval of WRDA:
“Manufacturers rely on our nation’s ports and inland waterways to transport goods from finished products to the most basic inputs and commodities,” said Aric Newhouse, NAM’s senior vice president of policy and government relations, in a published remark. “This bill ensures continued investment in our waterways and corrects the chronic underfunding of harbor maintenance dredging by increasing authorized funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.”