Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Monday 05/06/13

WRDA Bill Coming to the Floor in Senate

The Water Resources Development Act will come up for a cloture vote early this evening in the U.S. Senate on whether to proceed with debate on the Water Resources Development Act, or S. 601.

This bill is going to be closely watched by groups wanting to see improvements to the way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans and develops inland waterway projects.

Last month, the Congressional Budget Office pegged the cost of WRDA at $5.7 billion through 2018. For a full 10-year funding projection, WRDA would cost $12.2 billion.

According to CBO estimates, WRDA would spend about $3.4 billion on 27 water resource projects from 2014-2018.

It should be noted that the Army Corps of Engineers has backlog of about $60 billion for construction projects.

The bill also allows the Corps to set up a $100 million a year grant program for states and local governments to fund levee improvements as well. Another $500 million would be set aside for loans or loan guarantees for local and state governments to complete water infrastructure projects.

Like pretty much everything else in DC, the WRDA bill, which passed out of committee unanimously, now has critics lining up to stop it. The National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council oppose language that would allow the Corps to speed up its review process on water projects. One complaint among shippers and others is the growing timeframe it takes to build projects. The environmental groups argue those safeguards help project against poor planning and projects that would affect vital habitat.

On the other side, taxpayer watchdog groups complain that the WRDA bill gives the Corps too much power in deciding which projects to develop instead of Congress. Nine groups sent a letter last month to senators opposing the WRDA bill.

"Congress is just rubber stamping what the Corps decides to do," said Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "We need to find a way to prioritize our projects and figure out which projects are actually in the nation interest.”

This is somewhat ironic because WRDA used to be largely a list of funding earmarks. Changes in Congress gutted the ability to do earmarks. Instead, the WRDA bill goes back and tries to complete some projects already approved in prior WRDA bills.

One element to watch in the WRDA debate is whether Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and other co-sponsors will introduce the "Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act," or RIVER Act, as an amendment to the WRDA bill. The RIVER Act actually increases the fuel tax paid by barge operators by 9 cents a gallon. Groups such as the Waterways Council have advocated for increasing the tax to help fund construction projects.

The RIVER Act also would move the now-infamous Olmstead Lock and Dam project "off the books" of the trust fund. Located on the Ohio River splitting Kentucky and Illinois, Olmstead was authorized in the 1988 WRDA bill and is still incomplete. At $2.2 billion in costs and climbing, the Olmstead project also has a $1.4 billion tab in cost overruns.

Link to article from conservative groups opposing WRDA: http://dld.bz/…

CBO score on WRDA: http://www.cbo.gov/…


I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 11:50AM CDT 05/06/13 by Chris Clayton
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