Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Senate Version Of WRDA Would Enshrine 75-25 Cost-Share Split

Washington, D.C.—The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted unanimously to advance the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022, maintaining a popular biennial schedule for passing WRDA bills.

Passed by a 20-0 vote, the bipartisan bill now heads to the Senate floor.

It authorizes 17 chief’s reports for new projects and 36 feasibility studies.

According to a bill summary, the Army Corps of Engineers is directed to expedite completion of a number of ongoing studies and projects critical to coastal and inland floor risk mitigation, navigation and ecosystem restoration.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) singled out language that for the first time since 2007 authorizes new environmental infrastructure projects as well as modifications for existing projects.

As an example of a project that will benefit a local community as well as the entire country, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the panel’s ranking member, highlighted a significant project for coastal storm risk management on the coast of Texas.

Other key provisions would make permanent a change in the cost share for inland waterways projects to 75 percent federal and 25 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund, ensure dredging needs at underserved community harbors are met and require the Corps to provide an annual report on the time needed to complete environmental reviews on projects as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

A House committee is expected to unveil its version of WRDA 2022 in the coming weeks.

Small Ports Not Forgotten

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg assured a key Senate committee that the nation’s smaller ports will not be forgotten by his agency, which has been provided unprecedented funding for port modernization.

“While most of the headlines and public imagination might center on our largest container ports on the east and west coasts, our Great Lakes ports and, might I add, our river ports play a very important role,” Buttigieg told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“So, you have my commitment that with PIDP (Port Infrastructure Development Program) we will be paying attention to the potential of smaller inland and fresh-water ports as well as our larger coastal ports.”

He was responding to comments by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who said better use of Great Lakes ports could have helped relieve the substantial congestion at east and west coast ports.

Peters also stressed the importance of assuring all seaports have equitable access to federal resources and be held to the same standards.

In his written statement to the panel, Buttigieg recalled a visit to Tell City, Ind., where he saw how federal investments will support shipments of pig iron through a small river port. 

He also committed to Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that his agency will help speed up projects by assuring ports they will be able to spend their funds as soon as possible.

“We want to see the dollars deployed as promptly and effectively as possible,” Buttigieg said.

He said President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal for the Transportation Department totals $142 billion, including $36.8 billion in advance appropriations from the infrastructure law.

Training Vessels

At a separate hearing on DOT’s proposed budget, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Buttigieg that state maritime academies were shocked to learn of a plan to name their new training vessels as if they are located in Virginia instead of the school locations.

“Each of our schools takes great pride in these ships,” said Collins, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, which held the hearing.

“What can we do to ensure that we follow the practice that we’ve always followed, and these vessels have the location of the maritime academy imprinted on them?”

Buttigieg said the issue was brought to his attention only recently and offered to follow up with the senator’s office on the matter.

Collins also pressed Buttigieg on the possible impact of rising costs on the delivery of the training vessels.

He said DOT is monitoring the issue and expressed optimism the multi-year acquisition schedule might help with the vessels’ timely delivery.

Collins responded: “We don’t want to see a gap.” 

Fagan Confirmation Hearing

Adm. Linda Fagan, President Joe Biden’s choice to become the Coast Guard’s 27th commandant, said her career has been dedicated to keeping the American people and the nation’s maritime commerce safe.

“As the service’s most senior marine inspector, I am committed to the Coast Guard’s role as a regulator to protect the resilience of our marine transportation system that facilitates more than $5 trillion in economic activity every year,” Fagan told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during her confirmation hearing.

She said her top priority as commandant would be to modernize the Coast Guard’s talent management system, which has not changed significantly in 75 years, to recruit and retain people in the 21st century.

Fagan appears headed to a smooth and historic confirmation to become the first woman to lead any branch of the armed services.

Water Resources Proposals

The Army Corps of Engineers announced it was accepting proposals from non-federal interests for possible inclusion in its annual report to Congress on future water resources development.

Proposals must be submitted by August 29 online at www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Project-Planning/WRRDA7001-Proposals/.

Additional details can be found in the April 29 issue of the Federal Register.

Section 7001 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 requires the publication of a request for proposals by non-federal interests for feasibility studies, modifications to authorized Corps water resources development projects or feasibility studies and modifications to environmental infrastructure program authorities.

For additional information, send an email to the help desk at WRRDA7001Proposal@usace.army.mil or call Stuart McLean at 202-761-4931.

E15 Waiver Approved

As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency fuel waiver to allow E15 gasoline, which uses a 15 percent ethanol blend, to be sold during the summer driving season.

EPA said the action, which President Joe Biden announced earlier as part of his commitment to provide relief from market supply issues, will increase fuel supply and provide consumers more choices at the pump.

EPA’s action took effect May 1 and impacted roughly only the two-thirds of the country where E15 gasoline cannot be sold from terminals beginning May 1 and from retail stations beginning June 1.

Reducing Marine Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $524 million effort to improve the health of waterways and oceans by reducing pollution and plastic waste.

EPA said its funding is part of a package that totals $895 million to address marine pollution and involves several other federal agencies.

EPA’s commitments include $60 million to support Mississippi River states, Ohio and Indiana in reducing nutrients in waterways to shrink the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Great Lakes Agreement

Marking the 50th anniversary of their agreement to restore and protect the Great Lakes, the United States and Canada celebrated the successes of that historic collaboration.

Dramatic reductions in toxic substances harmful to fish and wildlife, restoration of degraded areas on both sides of the border and measures resulting in the return of important species including the bald eagle and lake trout were cited in a joint statement issued by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Regan and Guilbeault conceded the job begun with the United States-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is “far from finished.”

They said additional opportunities to protect the Great Lakes over the next 50 years will be discussed at the Great Lakes Public Forum in Niagara Falls, Ontario, during the week of September 26.