Ride the water bill to renewed prosperity

The Empire State was born.

Today, America’s water infrastructure is no less important to our economy. Thanks to the bipartisan work of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, this week the House is debating the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).  Not only would this bill create jobs by updating and reauthorizing water infrastructure projects across the nation, but it reforms the outdated process that the Army Corps of Engineers uses to approve projects.

ADVERTISEMENT
Importantly, the bill streamlines and focuses how the Corps does business for water-related projects. Army Corps project feasibility studies can take up to 15 years to complete and currently have no limit on how much they can cost.  WRRDA would mandate that these studies be completed in three years, at a cost of no more than $3 million, and be worked on by all three branches of the Corps—district, division, and headquarters concurrently rather than consecutively.  Most notably, WRRDA restores constitutional congressional oversight of these reports without yielding decision-making authority to the executive branch, putting the power to approve project construction back in the hands of elected representatives.

The House WRRDA bill would also help to revitalize America’s ailing economy and allow state and local partners of the Army Corps more control in the project construction phase.  Generally, state or local partner agencies provide a cost-share on Army Corps projects.  Provisions in WRRDA would allow for non-federal interests to start spending their share to begin a project and receive reimbursement down the line. Also, WRRDA would expand the use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars, which are primarily to be used for upkeep of our harbors.  Currently, only around 50 percent of these funds are being utilized for its intended purpose; WRRDA would incentivize that 80 percent of the dollars are being used by 2020. This important change will give shippers who pay harbor taxes more confidence that their hard-earned dollars are being used for their intended purpose.

This legislation cuts $12 billion from a backlog of outdated projects. It is fiscally responsible and doesn’t include a single earmark — a strong and much-needed departure from water resources bills of yore.  Over the past few weeks, we have seen Washington’s dysfunction. Congress now has an opportunity to approve a bipartisan, reform-minded bill that can bring members from both sides of the aisle together for the sake of increased economic competitiveness. Given Congress’ recent budget battles and scars, passage of WRRDA would send a strong message that the legislative branch can still successfully complete the work our constituents expect and deserve.

The Erie Canal still operates today, moving cargo ships from the Great Lakes across upstate New York and southward to the Atlantic Ocean. Water infrastructure like the canal transfers billions of dollars in goods and raw materials throughout the country each day and supports thousands of good-paying agricultural, manufacturing and transportation jobs.

The United States’ economy was built upon a proud maritime heritage.  In 2013, we find ourselves in an highly competitive global trade environment.  By passing WRRDA, we ensure that our 21st century water infrastructure projects are as efficient as possible to facilitate trade, keep products moving across America, and create jobs in communities in every corner of our nation. Congress has an opportunity before it to help Americans do what we do best – compete. Let’s seize it.

Hanna has represented New York's 22nd Congressional District since 2011. He serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, and on the Small Business Committee.