Senate Committee Begins Setting Goals For WRDA 2018

Washington, D.C.—Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and their witnesses ran the gauntlet when laying out goals for an expected Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018.

Suggestions ranged from minimizing ice jams to streamlining the approval process for projects.

And, as always, more funding was pushed.

“It’s not doing more with less. We’ve been trying to do that forever. It’s not working,” Scott Robinson, port director for the Port of Muskogee, Okla., told the committee during its hearing on “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges.”

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“We need to do more with more and do it efficiently and in a business-like manner.”

William Friedman, president and CEO of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority and chairman-elect of the American Association of Port Authorities, presented AAPA’s case for $66 billion in potential federal waterside and landside investments.

When it came his turn to question the witnesses, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tossed out an idea that led even him to wonder if it would not be welcomed by others.

“It concerns me that we shovel projects in one side of the WRDA bill, and we shovel money in the other side of the WRDA, and how the Army Corps of Engineers connects that money to those projects is a giant black hole, and I think we need to fix that.”

Congress, he suggested, went too far in reacting to the justified criticism over earmarks in the past and abandoned its responsibility in coming up with an honorable and  transparent way to help supervise WRDA projects instead of just handing them over to the Corps bureaucracy.

 Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the committee, quickly welcomed Whitehouse’s suggestion, which came only one day after President Donald Trump used a White House meeting on immigration to suggest lawmakers go back to using earmarks to help get things done.

“I hear so much about earmarks,” Trump said, “how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks.”

In a brief session with reporters following his committee’s hearing, Barrasso declined to provide a specific timeline but suggested action would be quick and not wait on Trump’s much-anticipated infrastructure package.

“WRDA is not going to be slowed down by anything,” Barrasso said.

On January 17, the Senate committee has scheduled another hearing on water infrastructure needs with a “federal panel” of witnesses.

Infrastructure Discussion

As the administration continues to complete its plan to rollout the president’s infrastructure initiative, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao; Gary Cohn, director of the White House Economic Council; and DJ Gribbin, special assistant to the president on infrastructure policy, met with a bipartisan group of senators.

A White House official said that session focused on the president’s two main goals of generating more than $1 trillion in investment and expediting the burdensome and lengthy permitting process.

“No dates have been settled on,” a White House official said when asked about the timeline for introducing the proposal.

“The Trump administration looks forward to working with all members of Congress who want to join us in rebuilding America.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who attended the session as ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke of the skepticism among members of Congress on how the administration plans to get to the trillion-dollar mark on its infrastructure package.

“The most encouraging thing about yesterday is we met and we talked and it was civil,” Carper told reporters.

WOTUS Rollback

President Trump used his appearance at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Nashville, Tenn., to promote his administration’s efforts to roll back what he called “the terrible Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.”

“It sounds so nice. It sounds so innocent. And it was a disaster,” Trump said, describing how farmers have approached him with tears in their eyes because “I gave them back their property.”

Scott Pruitt, appointed by Trump to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has told a key House committee to expect an official proposal on WOTUS in April.

Marine Highway Grants

Sponsors of designated Marine Highway Projects can apply for another round of federal grant money totaling roughly $4.8 million, the Maritime Administration announced.

Applications must be received by MarAd by 5 p.m. on March 2.

“MarAd will seek to obtain the maximum benefit from the available funding by awarding grants to as many qualified projects as possible,” the agency stated in its Federal Register notice.

“However, MarAd reserves the right to award all funds to just one project. MarAd may partially fund applications by selecting discrete components of projects.”

Past recipients of grants under the program may apply for funding to support additional phases of designated projects.

Funding for the America’s Marine Highway Program (AMHP) was provided through an appropriations act signed into law in May of last year.

“The purpose of the appropriation is to make grants to previously designated Marine Highway Projects that support the development and expansion of documented vessels, and port and landside infrastructure,” MarAd stated.

For additional information, contact Tori Collins at 202-366-0795.

The American Association of Port Authorities has identified the Marine Highway Program as a priority.

In a news alert posted on its website, AAPA stated that an FY2018 Senate appropriations bill to fund transportation includes $7 million for the program while the House version includes no funding.

NWC Legislative Summit

The National Waterways Conference has scheduled its 2018 Legislative Summit for March 5–7 in Washington, D.C.

According to the announcement, a water resources development act of 2018 and a comprehensive infrastructure package expected from the Trump administration will top the agenda.

Invited speakers so far include Chairman Bill Shuster of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Alex Herrgott, associate director for Infrastructure at the Council on Environmental Quality in the White House; and top leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers including Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers; Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations; and Eddie Belk, chief of program integration.

“Again this year, we will be hosting our annual Congressional Reception with the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association,” the announcement stated.

The summit will be held at The Madison Washington, D.C., which is a Hilton hotel.

Online registration is available at www.waterways.org.