A Positive Outlook for a Water Resources Development Act in 2013

Inland Port Magazine
2013 Issue II
By Michael J. Toohey, WCI President/CEO

The organization of the House and Senate for the 113th Congress is complete and the changes are very encouraging for the inland waterways transportation stakeholders.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Bill Shuster has ascended to the Chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mr. Shuster represents a Congressional District which includes the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers near Pittsburgh. He has already visited the aging infrastructure, touring by tow boat. Speaker John Boehner has also tasked Mr. Shuster with finding more revenue for infra-structure investment.

Chairman Shuster's team includes Subcommittee on Water Resources Chairman Bob Gibbs of Ohio who returns for a sec­ond term leading the Subcommittee. He focused attention last Congress on the overruns at Olmsted and is supportive of the proposals of the Capital Development Plan.

This year, the Committee Chairman has actively reached out to the Ranking Democratic Member, Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Representative Rahall is also a strong proponent of inland waterways transportation.

In appearances before the Chamber of Congress and in private meetings, Chairman Shuster has identified as a major challenge the need to educate the newer Members of Congress on the importance of the Inland Waterways and need to increase the user fees needed to modernize the system.

On the Senate side, Louisiana Senator David Vitter has assumed the Ranking position on the Environment and Public Works Committee. He is also a vital supporter of the waterways which are critical to his state's economic vitality. Other Senate Waterways Champions include members of the key Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator John Boozman and Senator James Inhofe.

On the Appropriations Committee Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is advocating the removal of the Olmsted project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and funding the completion of the dam feature of the project from general revenues. He also advocates an 11 cent increase in the waterways user fee which will create an investment program of approximately $220 million per year to modernize the system. Senator Alexander is working with the Environment and Public Works Committee to include his proposal on Olmsted in the WRDA 2013 legislation being developed by the committee.

In the Senate, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) has been awarded a seat on the Finance Committee which will consider legislation to increase the waterways user fee in this session of Congress. In mid-February, Senator Casey also introduced S. 407 — The Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways (RIVER) Act of 2013. The bill was co-sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). S. 407 would establish a sustainable, cost-effective way to ensure that the inland and intracoastal waterways of the United States remain economically viable.

The bill would modernize America's inland waterways system, create jobs, relieve traffic congestion, and optimize American competitiveness through the most low-cost, energy-efficient transportation mode.

The River Act of 2013 is based on elements contained in the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan to:
More specifically, the River Act would preserve the existing 50% industry/50% federal cost-sharing formula for new lock construction and major lock rehabilitation projects.
It would include a cost-share cap on lock construction projects to incentivize keeping projects on budget and prevent shippers from bearing the burden of paying for unreasonable cost overruns. This will strengthen the ability of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to fund more priority projects in the pipeline.
It will also increase by 45% (nine cents per gallon) the existing fuel tax of 20-cents-per-gallon that is paid by the barge and towing industry, the only users of the system who currently are taxed. At the same time, the recommended reforms to the Corps of Engineers' project management and delivery process would ensure that these additional resources are spent wisely.

WCI's Executive Committee unanimously endorsed the plan and the association applauds Senators Casey, Landrieu and Klobuchar's efforts in devising the River Act that will mod­ernize our critically important inland navigation system and its infrastructure. Modern waterways are critical to U.S. competi­tiveness in the world market, to environmental protection, to energy efficiency, to highway congestion relief and to the sus­tainment of well-paying American jobs.

They benefit the U.S. agricultural sector, our construction industry, our energy sector, our environment, our economy, and all the beneficiaries of the nation's waterways system.

With this Senate (S. 407) bill now introduced, and announcements by both the Senate EPW Committee and the House T&I Committee that WRDA is their number one legisla­tive priority, 2013 is aligning as the year the inland waterways
transportation system receives the critical support needed to transform into a modern, efficient and reliable network.

Visit http://www.waterwayscouncil.org for more.