After a tense couple of weeks due to President Donald Trump’s threats to veto the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133), an omnibus appropriations bill that included this year’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), he finally signed it into law. None of the president’s disagreements with Congress over the bill had anything to do with WRDA itself, but instead concerned issues like the amount of the stimulus checks for each American in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief portion of the bill, and various foreign expenditures.
Another part of the omnibus appropriations bill funded the Corps of Engineers’ Water Infrastructure Financing Program (CWIFP) for the first time ever. The program, first authorized (but not funded) in 2014, will “accelerate non-federal investments in water resources infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost loans to creditworthy borrowers” like levee districts, state and local governments for levee and other waterways infrastructure improvements.
The omnibus bill wasn’t the only legislative victory for waterways-related interests in this session. Congress handed Trump the first veto override of his presidency when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act over his veto. As with the omnibus bill, none of Trump’s disagreements had anything to do with these waterways-friendly measures.
The American Waterways Operators called the act “one of the most significant laws to be enacted in Congress in many years.” The bill was a large, comprehensive measure that included many matters in its sweep. Several of these were important to waterways interests.
One of the most important is a “landmark” provision (according to AWO) applying the Jones Act to offshore renewable energy (wind) development. This means that all vessels servicing offshore wind installations must be U.S.-built and -crewed. “The legislation eliminates the uncertainty that had been created by conflicting federal agency interpretations and paves the way for significant new investment in American vessels, and jobs for American mariners, to serve the burgeoning offshore renewable energy market,” AWO said in a recent newsletter.
The bill also restricts conditions under which Jones Act waivers can be obtained, sets up strict time limits for such waivers and requires reporting of their use by foreign vessels.
All of these bills required significant behind-the-scenes work. Waterways and maritime interests, blue and brown, sailed through the storms of COVID-19, the elections and a year of unusually bitter and contentious politics into three significant wins that will serve our waterways and all those who use them for years and years to come.