Congressional leaders say progress made on WRDA bill
A compromise between the House and Senate on a new water resources bill that would help improve inland and seaport navigation is still several weeks away, according to congressional leaders.
The Senate voted to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act last spring, and the House easily passed its version (adding "Reform" to the name) in the fall with only three dissenting votes. Observers felt that the consensus would quickly lead to a joint bill that both chambers would approve, but the measure has been stuck in a conference committee ever since.The main stumbling block appears to be how much constitutional authority Congress should cede to the executive branch, namely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to make the final call on what harbor deepening projects should be approved.
Both pieces of legislation would reform the process for reviewing projects, initiate a few studies of new dredging projects, and authorize appropriators to fund billions of dollars in port and waterway projects. The House WRRDA also attempts to maintain deficit neutrality by deauthorizing moribund projects on the books equal in value to newly authorized projects.
On Thursday, the House's lead negotiator, Rep. Bill Shuster, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expressed confidence that a consolidated bill would be voted on in the coming weeks.
"We've crossed a number of hurdles," but some issues remain to be resolved, he said, without providing details, during an address to state transportation chiefs gathered in Washington.
He insisted that he would not concede ground on the issue of giving congressional authority to the executive branch.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, echoed his comments the day before in an address to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials during its annual "Washington Briefing."
"We've resolved the most problematic issues" and could produce a final bill "very shortly," she said.
The maritime industry and shippers are eager for the legislation to be approved because the last WRDA bill was enacted in 2007, more than five years behind the normal re-approval cycle. The delay means new projects are languishing and policies haven't been updated to improve Army Corps operations.
We’ll send it to you!
Register now and get the free AS Daily.