Harbors, waterways get funding gains in omnibus bill
The U.S. Senate late Thursday passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2014 that consolidates 14 appropriations bills for various federal departments. Funding for several freight-related programs, including those of benefit to ports and inland waterways, is included in the bill.
The legislation, which was approved by the House on Wednesday, now goes to President Obama to be signed into law. It formalizes the budget deal struck by Senate Democrats and House Republicans last month and eliminates the chance for another government shutdown.
The catch-all legislation includes funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' navigation-related programs, Department of Homeland Security grants for port security, the Environmental Protection Agency's Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, and the Department of Transportation's multi-modal TIGER grants.
Despite the tight fiscal environment, Congress actually increased the TIGER funding by 20 percent to $600 million.
The bill provides $5.5 billion for the Army Corps Civil Works program, including a new high of $1 billion for dredging operations and maintenance, compared to the administration's budget request of $4.8 billion. The higher funding for dredging reflects directives in the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization bills passed by both chambers, but that still must be reconciled through negotiations in a uniform bill.
Shipping proponents want the full $1.8 billion in annual Harbor Maintenance Tax receipts to be used for channel deepening and widening, but the $1 billion appropriation represents a greater share of the pie for dredging than allowed before.
Congress also approved the Corps to initiate three new deep-draft navigation studies and up to two new starts on construction projects. These are the first new starts since 2010, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.
Corps will make the final decision about which projects it will undertake.
Also in line with the pending WRDA bill, the cost-sharing formula for the long-delayed Olmstead Lock and Dam project was raised to 75 percent from the general fund and 25 percent through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Currently the 50-50 split has resulted in the Olmstead project consuming nearly all of the money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, leaving little for other inland water improvements. The revised cost share frees up $81.5 million for other projects that have been delayed because of the Olmstead's cost overruns.
Trade groups representing farmers and ports expressed satisfaction with the omnnibus bill and said it would help enable commerce.
The DHS' Federal Emergency Management Agency manages port security grants as part of its grant program for states and localities. Congress directed that $100 million of program funding go towards port security.
The EPA's funding for DERA grants, which are used to help local agencies support diesel engine retrofits or replacement, remained flat at $20 million.
The legislation also does not increase aviation taxes, but targets more funding to U.S. Customs for hiring more officers to work at airports, land checkpoints and seaports.
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