Water Infrastructure Legislation Gushes Ahead in Congress

The 300-foot dredge Alaska deepens the shipping channel to the port of Savannah off the coast of Tybee Island, Ga., Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.

The 300-foot dredge Alaska deepens the shipping channel to the port of Savannah off the coast of Tybee Island, Ga., Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

A House committee passed its Water Resources Development Act legislation unanimously on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — A House panel moved forward Wednesday with a bill that would call for certain tax dollars be spent on port and harbor projects in future years. 

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved its Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, legislation that would set policy for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an agency involved in public works like dams, locks and harbors.

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the bill could hit the House floor in early June.

Approval of the House measure came one day after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a more expansive version of the water resources bill. That legislation includes a section that would rework federal loan programs for water and wastewater projects. 

The House measure, in contrast, sticks tightly to the business of the Corps, an agency with a roughly $100 billion backlog of water infrastructure construction projects.

"The Senate bill is always different from the House bill, so we'll have to go to conference and figure out the differences," Shuster told reporters after Wednesday's committee vote.

"Keeping it narrow, keeping it focused on Corps projects, is the way you get it through the House," he added.

Because the WRDA bill is not appropriations legislation it would not directly pump new money toward addressing the Corps funding gap.

But a provision in the House bill, highlighted by lawmakers in both parties, seeks to ensure that tax revenue collected for what's known as the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund goes to harbor and port projects and is not diverted to other parts of the federal budget.

This part of the bill, however, would not take full effect 2029.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, has championed the provision.

DeFazio explained that the tax in question is collected on imported goods shipped through ports, and that revenues from it total about $2 billion annually. But he said lawmakers have socked away almost $10 billion of these revenues in a "theoretical account" for other purposes.

"This is a real problem," the congressman said Wednesday.

"We are basically stealing from the American people," he added. "They're paying a tax every time they buy an imported good. And Congress is stealing half that money and not spending it on the needed and intended purpose."

Rep. Garret Graves, the Louisiana Republican who chairs a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on water resources and the environment, echoed DeFazio's view on the trust fund.

"The diversion of dollars is absolutely inappropriate," he said.

Elsewhere in the House bill, there's language to reauthorize dam and levee safety programs.

The legislation also requests a report on the Corps project backlog and a study to look at the possibility of moving the Army Corps out of the Defense Department and into another part of the government.

Lawmakers propose in the bill to "de-authorize" $3 billion in previously authorized water infrastructure projects.

This section of the legislation asks the Corps to submit a list of projects to Congress that were approved for construction prior to November 2007, but have not advanced.

The bill would also newly authorize six projects to be carried out, which would require about $2.4 billion in estimated federal funding. These same six projects would be authorized under the Senate bill.

Two of the projects are located in Florida, two in Texas, one in Hawaii and one in New York.

The most expensive, with a $3.3 billion total price tag and a $2.1 billion federal share, is aimed at reducing the risk from tropical storm surge in three counties south and east of Houston on Texas’ Gulf Coast. It would build a nearly 27 mile levee and flood wall system.

DeFazio on Wednesday decried the loss of congressional "earmarks" for designating high priority projects, saying that the 2011 ban on the practice had resulted in a situation where the Army Corps picks which projects move forward using a "secretive process."

Route Fifty asked Shuster, who is not seeking reelection in November, what he believed would solve the massive backlog of Army Corps construction projects. "Money," he shot back.

He said that directing more Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars to infrastructure projects would help on this front.

"If we were to spend $800 million to a billion dollars additionally a year," he added, "you'd really start to take down that backlog. Not a hundred billion. But you'd be able to make a significant dent."

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Improved Water Quality and More Field Time Due to a 97% Reduction in Office Admin Work
Marin County, CA, USA
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA
Orlando Protects Citizens During Heavy Rain Events by Optimizing Water Data Intelligence
Orlando, FL, USA

NEXT STORY: Why We Need a National Infrastructure Map

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.