(Posted Fri. May 16th, 2014)
The National Corn Growers Association praised the final House-Senate conference committee for completing negotiations on and yesterday issuing its agreement for a Water Resources Development Act 2014. Now, NCGA urges Congress to swiftly approve this final reauthorization bill to improve the reliability and efficiency of the U.S. inland waterways system.
“We are happy to see the committee come to agreement, issue the report and make concrete steps toward repairing and improving our inland waterways,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. “With more than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports transported by barge, WRRDA is crucial to farmers. Most of America’s locks and dams were built in the 1920s and 1930s, yet are used to transport 21st century cargoes. Improving this crucial infrastructure will provide U.S. farmers and businesses a reliable transportation channel. By improving our ability to compete in export markets, we fuel our domestic economy as well.”
NCGA specifically thanks conference committee leaders Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) for their bipartisan leadership in bringing this negotiated bill to the floor of Congress.
Passage of WRDA will bring a greater degree of accountability to the Army Corps of Engineers project delivery system by prioritizing authorized improvements based upon risk of failure and economic return to the nation. The report includes four recommendations originally issued in the Capital Development Plan which was developed in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and unanimously endorsed by the Congressionally-chartered Inland Water Users Board in 2010.
- Federalize the project at the Olmsted Locks and Dams. This would create a permanent cost-sharing arrangement for the remaining cost of the project, with 85 percent of funding taken from the general fund and 15 percent taken from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. This would make approximately $105 million per year available for funding other Trust Fund priority projects.
- Redefine major rehabilitation projects eligible for funding through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, increasing the current level defined in law from $14 million to $20 million. The level would also be adjusted annually to account for inflation.
- Prioritize projects solely upon the basis of risk of failure and economic benefit to the United States.
- Reform project delivery to achieve on-time and on-budget performance.
The report does not address a proposed increase to the diesel fuel user fee which would provide a constant stream of revenue to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. By increasing this tax between six and nine cents per gallon of fuel, the industries using the waterways would be able to provided needed funds for the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure on which they rely. Notably, these funds are matched with General Treasury Funds and thus would have a far greater impact than simply revenues collected.