Casey & Senate Colleagues Pass WRDA: Will House Be Next?

Inland Port Magazine
Issue III 2013

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A true champion for the inland waterways, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey (D) was instrumental in getting WRDA passed in the US Senate. He authored the RIVER Act, most of which was added to WRDA. In this exclusive interview with Inland Port Magazine, Senator Casey shares his thoughts on the bill and our industry’s future.

How do you feel about the Senate’s passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)?

I’m pleased that the US Senate came together in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to pass legislation that could provide major improvements to the Inland Waterways System and Southwestern Pennsylvania’s locks and dams in particular. This bill addresses critical infrastructure needs while creating jobs and boosting the economy.

This was a long, hard fight. Is the battle over? If not, what’s next?

The Senate passage of the bill is a step in the right direction, but we need to make sure the House also passes a strong bill that will continue to invest in this critical infrastructure that is directly tied to job creation and economic growth. I’m also hopeful that the House’s WRDA bill will include an industry-supported change to the user fee so we can see an appropriate level of investment in the inland waterways system.

Tell us a bit about your background in public service, and specifically when you realized the waterways industries needed your help.

I have been out on the Monongahela River and visited the locks and dams there. One of the locks at Elizabeth is over 100 years old and far past its design life. If this lock failed, the Monongahela could not be used for marine transportation of resources. The economic impact to the Ohio Valley would be substantial – approximately $1 billion. That was an important moment for me and illustrated the importance of maintaining and improving our country’s locks and dams.

Why are the waterways important to Pennsylvania, and to the nation overall?

The inland waterways system offers the most cost-competitive way to transport our commodities. It moves 20 percent of the coal that is used to power our nation’s electricity – much of it from Pennsylvania, 22 percent of our petroleum products, and more than 60 percent of export grain. Shippers who produce or manufacture these commodities are in danger of losing competitive edge unless we focus on proper funding for the lock and dam infrastructure.

What is the current condition of locks and dams in the Pennsylvania area?

Unfortunately, the locks and dams of Pennsylvania have far outlived their design life. There has not been sufficient investment to make headway in replacing these locks and dams. I am hopeful that provisions I helped to secure in WRDA will address the challenges facing the inland waterways system, but there’s no question that more needs to be done.

Tell us about the RIVER Act (S. 407). Why did you and your fellow co-sponsors got behind it? Why is it important?

In southwestern Pennsylvania alone, over 200,000 jobs rely on the proper functioning the locks and dams on the lower Monongahela River. If one of these locks were to fail, it would endanger all 200,000 jobs and have a negative economic impact of over $1 billion to the region.

It is critical that we maintain and upgrade infrastructure that allows for the continual use of waterways in the long term. This will protect jobs in the region and other jobs that the inland waterways system supports across the country. My co-sponsors also recognize the vital importance of protecting our nation’s locks and dams in the long term and ensuring that the inland waterways system remains an efficient and safe mode for the transport of commerce.

I pushed to include key provisions of the RIVER Act in WRDA, including project delivery reforms, which will help improve the Army Corps of Engineers project management process and help to deliver projects on time and on budget. Project prioritization reforms will create clear priorities for lock and dam projects to make sure the projects with the most economic benefits are completed first and that all undertaken projects are completed in a timely fashion.

Additionally, an increase to the federal cost-share requirement on major rehabilitation projects will improve the ability of the Inland Waterways Trust to complete current projects and fund more in the future.

Finally, WRDA adjusts the cost-share for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project, which will help it be completed as soon as possible. It also frees up significant funding for other lock and dam construction projects.

There is more work to be done, but the reforms I have secured in the bill represent the best approach to meet long-standing, recognized needs for efficient delivery and timely completion of critical navigation projects and sustainable funding for the future if our waterways. This bill will also increase funding for the Lower Monongahela project and allow it to move forward.

How has the Port of Pittsburgh been helpful in communicating the value of the waterways to the state of Pennsylvania, and to the nation?

The Port of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania companies that rely on that inland waterways system, and the Pittsburgh District Office of the Army Corps of Engineers have done a great job communicating the value of the waterways to the state and to the nation. All of them were willing and able partners that helped demonstrate the importance of the waterways to the region and to the nation.

What do you see for the future of our nation’s exports? What role will the rivers play in that equation?

Focusing on exports is crucial to protecting and growing good-paying manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania. Every billion dollars-worth of U.S. exports supports an additional 5,080 jobs, according to the Department of Commerce. Since the inland waterways system is the most cost-efficient way of transporting commodities they are a crucial part of increasing our nation’s exports.