Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Thursday 05/22/14

WRRDA Passage Draws Praise

Agricultural groups appeared unanimous in their praise of the 91-7 vote by the U.S. Senate that sends the Water Resources Reform and Development Act to the president's desk.

WRRDA will spend $12.3 billion and authorizes 34 water resources projects across the country that have cleared technical reviews by the Army Corps of Engineers.

WRRDA also eliminates as much as $18 billion in planned projects by the Army Corps of Engineers that have never gotten off the ground. It also is expected to accelerate project planning and development times that have stretched to longer than 15 years in some cases. The Corps would have three years to do feasibility studies and have a $3 million cap.

Illinois farmer Martin Barbre, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said the House and Senate votes this week help improve the inland waterways system. Barbre stressed the need for the country to improve its infrastructure.

“Our locks and dams transport our cargoes today but were built in the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate far smaller loads and far less river traffic," Barbre said. "For farmers in particular, it is crucial as more than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge. The need is urgent; U.S. farmers and businesses rely upon this transportation channel to create economic opportunities at home and supply markets abroad.”

In its statement, NCGA also pointed to the missing element in the WRRDA bill, which is the fuel tax on barges. The inland waterways industry asked for a hike in the diesel tax but lawmakers did not include it in the legislation. A tax bill would be needed to increase the tax, which would provide additional 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 provide needed funds for the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure on which they rely," NCGA stated.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association praised some regulatory relief in the bill. WRRDA makes changes to the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule, or SPCC provision, on fuel taxes. The provision raises the exemption to 6,000 gallons aboveground for farms that have no history of spills. Farms with aboveground storage between 6,000 gallons and 20,000 gallons also can self-certify their operations if they have not had spills and no single tank on the operation is at least 10,000 gallons of capacity or more. Those operations that do not meet these exemptions will require a Spill Containment Plan, certified by a professional engineer.

“The SPCC rule is yet another example of the EPA’s regulatory scheme threatening the economic viability of rural America and family farms and ranches,” said Bob McCan, NCBA president and Victoria, Texas, cattleman. “Cattlemen and women have been waiting too long for a permanent fix to the SPCC rule. Thanks to the efforts of Senators Inhofe and Pryor and Representative Crawford, this provision will ease the burden of this rule across the nation for many farmers and ranchers.”

The American Soybean Association welcomed today’s passage by the Senate of the conference report of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). The report, which passed the House overwhelmingly earlier in the week, contains several of ASA’s key policy priorities.

“The Senate’s passage of the waterways bill conference report today is another critical step toward ensuring a critical component of the soybean supply chain will receive the attention and upkeep it needs to keep our products moving,” said ASA President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser. “Reliable waterways help take our soybeans from major growing regions to domestic processors and major exporting terminals, then on to valuable trading partners around the world. The efficiency of that system gives us a significant advantage over other soybean-producing nations, and is a huge part of why soybeans lead the nation in agricultural exports. Soybean farmers appreciate the work of Chairwoman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter in helping to craft and pass legislation that will give our waterways infrastructure network the attention it needs.”

The American Soybean Association pointed out WRRDA has provisions that will free up money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. ASA stated WRRDA increases the level of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that will be spent on port maintenance and dredging; streamlines the Army Corps of Engineers’ project review process; increases Corps flexibility to maintain navigation during low water events; and promotes the use of alternative financing and public-private partnerships to fund waterways infrastructure.

The bill also shifts more funding responsibility to the federal government for the Olmsted Locks and Dams project on the Ohio River. A construction project started in 1992, it may not be completed until after 2022 and will end up costing four times its original budget. Now, the federal government will pay 85% of the construction costs out of the Corps budget while the waterways trust fund will pay 15%.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., cited that the bill also has a "Buy American provision" that stresses using U.S. products for water and waste-water infrastructure projects.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.clayton@dtn.com.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 8:29PM CDT 05/22/14 by Chris Clayton
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