Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Overwhelmingly Passes Its Version Of WRDA

Washington, D.C.—The House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 that its lead sponsor described as the “largest and most ambitious” WRDA to date.

H.R. 7776 passed by a vote of 384 to 37, proving once again how popular WRDA remains among rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties.

It headed to the Senate, which has passed its own version of WRDA out of committee.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his bill authorizes 18 reports of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ chief of engineers that were transmitted to Congress since the last WRDA was signed into law in 2020.

DeFazio said the bill also authorizes 72 new feasibility studies and directs the Corps to expedite the completion of 14 ongoing studies.

“It is critical that we keep our infrastructure in this nation up to date with new challenges, with severe weather events, sea level rise and other things,” he said.

In his House floor remarks, DeFazio also singled out the historic change approved two years ago that frees up funds paid by shippers into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging harbors and rebuilding jetties.

“It gives the Corps more resources on the harbor side, which means they can devote a little more of their allocation to the inland waterways and to their other 40-some-odd billion dollars of backlog of critical projects across the country,” DeFazio said.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, praised the bill’s approach for providing far-reaching benefits to both regional and national economy.

Graves highlighted provisions on meeting levee inspection requirements, examining ways to control erosion on rivers and supporting flood control projects.

Marine Highway Projects

The Maritime Administration (MarAd) has announced immediate designation of four new Marine Highway Projects as part of the America’s Marine Highway Program (AMHP).

Located in North Carolina, Alaska and Puerto Rico, MarAd said, the projects now can apply for record levels of funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help address supply chain challenges. 

In March, the agency announced the availability of nearly $25 million in grant funding for the AMHP.

That amount was boosted by $14.8 million by the fiscal year 2022 appropriations act.

“This is the most funding for marine highways in American history,” stated MarAd, which extended the deadline for applications to June 17 to maximize the funding opportunities for the $39.8 million now available.

The four new Marine Highway Projects were identified as the Riverbulk Steel Shuttle in North Carolina; Yakutat, Alaska’s Freight Expansion Service; the Unalaska Express in Alaska; and the Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation Services Project.

Clean Water Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to strengthen the authority of states, territories and tribes to protect vital water resources while supporting a “common-sense” certification process under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

EPA said the proposed rule also would restore a long-held right that was severely limited by the previous administration’s rule.

“For 50 years, the Clean Water Act has protected water resources that are essential to thriving communities, vibrant ecosystems and sustainable economic growth,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

“EPA’s proposed rule builds on this foundation by empowering states, territories and tribes to use congressionally granted authority to protect precious water resources while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects.”

Comment on the proposed rule will be accepted for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Appropriations Markup Schedule

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced her panel’s expected schedule for marking up fiscal year 2023 spending bills.

That schedule calls for the Energy and Water Development bill to be marked up by the subcommittee at 5:30 p.m. June 21 and by the full committee at 10 a.m. June 28.

Markups for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill were set for 4 p.m. June 23 in the subcommittee and 10 a.m. June 30 in the full committee.

DeLauro’s schedule followed an announcement by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chair of the House Budget Committee, that a necessary framework has been provided in H.R. 1151 to get started on FY23 spending bills.

“This resolution supports President Biden’s FY23 budget request with a topline discretionary funding level of $1.6 trillion, a 9 percent increase from FY22 enacted levels,” Yarmuth said.

“This procedural measure paves the way for a timely annual appropriations process without prejudging outcomes for specific program areas.”

Republicans called foul, accusing the Democrats of once again hiding their spending levels in a totally unrelated bill.

“Democrats don’t want to talk about budgets because they’re spending like they don’t exist,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the House Budget Committee’s ranking member.

Corps Policy Priorities

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a series of public and tribal virtual meetings and a public docket to receive input on an effort to modernize its civil works policy priorities.

That announcement prompted the National Waterways Conference (NWC) to issue a news alert urging its members to participate.

NWC highlighted the focus on Principles, Requirements and Guidelines (PR&G) and Environmental Justice.

Written recommendations must be received by August 2.

They may be submitted for Docket ID No. COE-2022-0006 by the preferred method at www.regulations.gov or other methods explained in the Federal Register on June 3.

A virtual overview of the policy initiatives is scheduled on June 22 followed by virtual public meetings on July 11, July 14, July 18, July 20 and July 26.

In addition, virtual tribal meetings are scheduled on July 7, July 12, July 19, July 21 and July 27.

A schedule and links to the individual sessions also can be found in the Federal Register on June 3.

For additional information, contact Stacey Jensen at 703-697-4671.

Vessel Identification System

The Coast Guard announced a final rule on changing its regulations for certifying a state’s titling system for undocumented vessels to increase states’ participation in the Vessel Identification System (VIS) and help prevent so-called “title washing” that conceals severe damage by transferring a title to a different state.

Effective July 6, the rule allows states that have adopted the recommendations of the model Uniform Certificate of Title Act for Vessels to certify their titling provisions with the Coast Guard.

Once certified and participating in the VIS, a state is able to confer preferred mortgage status on financial instruments that apply to undocumented vessels, which benefits the owners of those vessels.

Documents can be viewed at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact W. Vann Burgess at 202-372-1071.