Now that the U.S. Senate has passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 93 to 1, the legislation goes to a conference to hash out its differences from the House’s version of WRDA, which was passed in May. It’s up to the conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions to prepare a version for President Joe Biden to sign.
The Senate WRDA bill directs the Corps to track, and annually submit to Congress, a report on the time to complete the environmental review process for projects as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The bill also authorizes 17 new projects, modifies four existing projects and authorizes 36 feasibility studies nationwide. There are differences in funding of specific projects. The Senate version includes $2.9 billion in federal funds for a modified Soo Locks project in Michigan.
The main point of difference that concerns our industry is the treatment of federal cost-share and the use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund in waterways infrastructure projects.
Right now, under current law, the cost-share stands at 65 percent general revenue funding and 35 percent industry-funded IWTF. That provision is scheduled to sunset to a 50-50 cost-share in 2031, unless the new WRDA extends it.
The industry much prefers the Senate bill’s provision changing the cost-share to 75-25 and making the change permanent. It would make a big difference in the annual draw-down from the IWTF: about $460 million a year if the Senate version prevails, vs. $330 million a year if the 65-35 split is allowed to stand.
In a hopeful sign, 75 members of Congress sent the chairs and ranking members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee a letter urging that Section 103 of the Senate bill (the part of the bill that adjusts the inland waterways cost-share to 75-25 percent) be included in any final WRDA 2022 bill.
The world’s trade networks and export markets are reconfiguring and becoming more volatile. Upgrading our waterways infrastructure and putting their funding on a sound and sustainable basis is more important than ever.