Washington Notebook: House passes appropriations bill for Army Corps
The U.S. House of Representatives last week easily passed an Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 that funds agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for maintaining and upgrading navigable channels for inland waterways and harbors. Included in the bill is an amendment to increase spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $57.6 million to meet the target set in the recently enacted Water Resources Reform and Development Act.
For many years, Congress has only spent half the fees collected from importers, cruise passengers and coast-wise shippers for intended dredging purposes. The rest of the money has been shielded to offset other spending in the federal budget and make the deficit look smaller.
Last year, the government collected more than $1.7 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, but Congress only appropriated about $850 million for channel maintenance. The HMTF has a surplus of more than $8 billion.
Under WRRDA, congressional appropriators are to utilize 67 percent of trust fund dollars for the coming fiscal year, rising to 100 percent by 2025.
The amendment, which was presented by Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., and Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., was offset by decreasing funding in the energy side of the bill. Hahn is co-chairman of the PORTS Caucus.
“This amendment is a win for ports across the country and is critical to keeping our nation globally competitive," Hahn said in a statement. "My colleagues and I have been working for years to increase funding for our nation’s ports and to fully utilize the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure money that’s collected at our ports goes back to our ports. For too long, we have failed to fund critical infrastructure projects, and our economy has suffered because of it. With the expansion of the Panama Canal nearing completion, we cannot wait any longer to ensure that our nation’s ports are prepared. The overwhelming bipartisan support that this amendment received shows just how important this issue is, not just to port communities, but to our entire nation.”
The Senate has yet to take up the Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The American Association of Port Authorities is working to convince Senate leaders to schedule a vote as soon as possible.
A month ago, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water approved a $34.2-billion budget for the Army Corps, Department of Energy, Department of Interior and some independent agencies. The bill recommends more than $5.1 billion for the Army Corps for operations and maintenance of waterways. The full committee has not voted on the bill.
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