By Keith Laing
“We have worked together in a bipartisan way on this bill since day one,” he said during his opening remarks. “We developed this bill with input from members and stakeholders in listening sessions, roundtables, and hearings.”
The WRRDA bill does not contain specific funding for water projects. The bill merely authorizes committees with jurisdiction over port and water infrastructure to include funding in their budgets.
But Shuster said it was important for Congress to enact a water bill for the first time since 2007.
“WRRDA matters,” he said. “This bill is about strengthening our infrastructure so we can remain competitive. It’s about economic growth. It’s about jobs.”
Shuster told members of the committee that his goal was “to get back to regular order, doing WRDA bills every two years."
In the meantime, he told the panel: “We can’t afford to delay to pass today’s bill. Without improvement, our water transportation system becomes more obsolete every day, and we become less competitive.”
The Senate has passed a water measure of its own in May.
The bill is the House’s first effort to pass a major piece of transportation legislation since a funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) was pulled from consideration in July amidst Republican infighting over government funding.
Shuster said the water bill that was being considered by the Transportation Committee on Thursday included not just authorization for spending, but also regulatory reforms similar to the 2012 surface transportation bill that was approved by lawmakers.
“This WRRDA is the most policy and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades,” he said. “Even the bill’s new name reflects the landmark reforms included; the extra “R:” in the title stands for “REFORM.”
“Our bill cuts red tape, reforms the bureaucracy, and accelerates project delivery. It sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies,” Shuster continued. “It also consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews. And our bill streamlines environmental reviews.”
Shuster added that the House’s version of the water bill also eliminates Congress’s authorization from some port and waterway projects that have been included in prior versions.
“A top priority of this bill is fiscal responsibility,” he said. “WRRDA deauthorizes $12 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to the current law, and fully offsets new authorizations. In addition, our bill sunsets new authorizations to prevent future backlogs.”
The previous water bill that was passed by Congress was approved by lawmakers over a veto from former President George W. Bush.
Both President Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx have spoken in recent months about the importance of providing funding for ports and waterways in the U.S.