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Editorial - Senate Passes WRDA 2016 by 95-3 Vote

On September 15, the Senate passed S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2016, by a strong bipartisan 95-3 vote. The House of Representatives bill H.R. 5303 has passed the committee level and awaiting a full vote, before a conference committee can combine the two bills for a final vote. On September 6, Congress returned for its final session before the November election.

In the Senate, Jim Inhofe (R – OK), chair-man of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has led the way for WRDA 2016. 

On June 29, he sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Comyn from 29 Republicans re-questing WRDA 2016 legislation be brought to the floor before the summer recess. That vote did not happen, but the Senate vote moves the bill one step closer to passage this year.
 

Inhofe urged that the bill was essential to pass for this year, even though the current authorization does not expire until 2017. Many projects and studies would be halted without the legislation’s appropriations. What he calls the “Must-Pass Legislation,” not only funds essential water infrastructure projects, but it also gives non-federal entities more power to maintain their own federal waterways, when the Corps funds fall short.

In Inhofe’s June letter to fellow Republicans, it champions WRRDA 2014 as a representation of what can be accomplished legislatively, looking to continue its guidance with regular bills. WRDA 2016, the letter said: “contains substantive reforms and authorizations that prepare our nation to compete in the global marketplace, strengthen protections for coastal and inland communities from disastrous floodwaters, modernize Corps policy to ensure efficient and effec-tive project delivery, and create mechanisms to provide affordable clean water and safe drinking water infrastructure.” 

His support for the bill included a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, which said WRDA is paid for and will save taxpayers $6 million over the next 10 years.

On June 20, Sen. Inhofe and the EPW committee submitted a report to the full senate on WRDA 2016, including the CBO report numbers and amendments.
 

Inhofe also spoke on the Senate floor calling for Senators to begin submitting amendments to WRDA 2016. 

CBO COST ESTIMATES FOR WRDA

On June 17, CBO released its cost estimate of S. 2848, as ordered by the EPW committee, upon passing the act on April 28. In short, CBO estimates that implementing the legislation would cost about $4.8 billion over the next five years and $10.6 billion from 2017 to 2026 (assuming authorized projects receive appropriations).

CBO also estimates that enacting the bill would reduce direct spending by $59 million over the 2017 to 2026 period. The CBO re-port said the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that enacting the bill would reduce revenues by $53 million over that same period. “Because enacting S. 2848 would affect direct spending and revenues, pay-as-you-go procedures apply,” the report said. “CBO estimates that enacting the bill would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027.” 

The Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, known as PAYGO, established budget-reporting and enforcement procedures for legislation affecting direct spending or revenues. Intending to stop the expansion of the deficit, the rule is designed to encourage Congress to offset the cost of any legislation that increases spending on entitlement programs or reduces revenues.)

According to the CBO report, implementing the legislation for water resource infra-structure would cost about $2.5 billion over the 2017-2026 period. It would authorize the Corps to construct 27 projects and would modify the existing authorization of another five projects. CBO estimates that the total cost to complete those projects would be $10.5 billion over the next 15 years. S. 2848 would authorize the appropriation of $5.8 billion to cover the federal share of those costs and nonfederal entities would be responsible for the remaining share, totaling an estimated $4.7 billion. CBO cost estimates were based on Corps project estimates for construction start dates, project duration and necessary funding. Many of the projects will take years to complete and require continued appropriations. CBO also estimates that the federal share of the projects would require the appropriation of about $3.2 billion from 2017 to 2026.

For navigation, the legislation would cost $705 million over the 2017 to 2016 period. It would increase the federal share of project costs for dredging coastal and inland harbors to depths between 45 to 50 feet, from 50 to 75 percent. Under current law, the federal share of the cost for dredging to depths be-tween 20 to 45 feet is 75 percent and dredging beyond 45 feet, the federal share is 50 percent. The CBO report said based on in-formation from the Corps, eight dredging projects would be affected by this provision, at a total estimated cost of $3.7 billion. The federal share of those costs would increase by about $430 million over the 2017 to 2026 period, as nonfederal costs would decrease proportionately.

S. 2848 also would authorize a $25 mil-lion appropriation for dredging along the lower half of the Mississippi River at shallow draft ports that require depths of 14 feet or less to operate. Including funding for a report from the Corps on the savings that would result from maintaining harbors at their required width and depth for each Corps projects, CBO estimates that implementing those provisions would cost $275 million over the 2017 to 2026 period.

Congress returned on September 6 for its final session before the November election. The House also need to pass its version of WRDA, before a conference committee combines the two bills for another full vote. 

S. 2848 SECTION HIGHLIGHTS

In the last editorial, I detailed some of the important sections of the House of Representatives bill H.R. 5303. Here are some of the important sections from S. 2848 that re-late to dredging, project funding and public-private partnerships.

Sec. 1001. STUDY OF WATER RE-SOURCES DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS BY NON-FEDERAL INTEREST. Study of water resources development projects by non-federal interests: authorizes the Secretary to provide technical assistance to a non-federal sponsor that is developing its own feasibility study.

Sec. 1002. ADANCED FUNDS FOR WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT STUDIES AND PROJECTS. Expands the existing authority of the Secretary to accept funds from states and local governments to carry out water resources projects to apply to all projects (not just flood control) and expands the definition of state to include territories and Indian Tribes.

Sec. 1004. PARTNERSHIPS WITH NON-FEDERAL ENTITIES TO PROTECT THE FEDERAL INVESTMENT. Authorizes the Corps to establish partnerships with non-federal interests to allow the non-federal interests to help address the backlog of maintenance at Corps projects by maintaining the projects at their own expense. 

Sec. 1005. NON-FEDERAL STUDY AND CONSTRUCTION OF PROJECTS. Authorizes the Corps to accept non-federal funds to help non-federal sponsors that are developing their own feasibility study or carrying out the construction of an authorized federal water resources.

Sec. 1008. STRUCTURES AND FACILITIES CONSTRUCTED BY THE SECRETARY. Non-federal entities seeking to alter, use, or cross a federal water resource project must obtain permission from the Secretary (known as a section 408 permit). This section streamlines that approval. 

Sec. 1010. CONTRIBUTED FUNDS. Amends the authority of the Secretary to accept funds from non-federal interests by removing the requirement that there first be appropriated funds before accepting funds.

Sec. 1029. PRIORITIZATION. Clarifies the prioritization of hurricane and storm damage reduction efforts in WRRDA 2014 to include restoration of wetlands as well as loss of wetlands. Updates deadline for report to Congress. Requires a report to Congress on the implementation of the requirements in WRRDA 2014 to give priority to certain ecosystem restoration projects.

Sec. 2003. FUNDING FOR HARBOR MAINTENANCE PROGRAMS. Clarifies the target appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund set forth in WRRDA 2014 in the event that the prior year appropriation was a decrease. 

Sec. 2004. DREDGED MATERIAL DISPOSAL. Requires dredged material disposal to meet state water quality standards, in compliance with the federal standard for dredged material disposal. 

Sec. 2005. CAPE ARUNDEL DISPOSAL SITE, MAINE. Keeps the dredged material disposal site used by multiple New England states open for 5 years to give the non-Federal interests time to find an alter-native disposal site.

Sec. 2008. BENEFICIAL USE OF DREDGED MATERIAL. Clarifies that un-der section 204(d) dredged material disposal is not a project that requires operation and maintenance and can be a single application of sediment. 

SEC. 2009. OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF HARBOR PROJECTS. Makes the 10 percent set aside from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for emerging harbors permanent.

Sec. 2011. HARBOR DEEPENING. Aligns the cost share for construction of harbors with the change in WRRDA 2014 modifying the cost-share for maintenance of harbors. 

Sec. 2012. OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE OF INLAND MISSISSIPPI RIVER PORTS. Authorizes dredging of shallow draft ports located on the inland Mississippi River to the respective authorized widths and depths.

Sec. 2013. IMPLEMENTATION GUIDANCE. Requires the Corps to issue guidance to implement section 2102 of WRDA 2014 (relating to maintenance of emerging ports and Great Lakes ports).

Sec. 2015. NON-FEDERAL INTEREST DREDGING AUTHORITY. Establishes a pilot program authorizing a non-Federal interest to maintain a federal navigation project with its own equipment and personnel and be eligible for reimbursement of personnel time directly related to performance of the work.

Sec. 2017. DREDGED MATERIAL. Authorizes the placement of dredged material in a location other than the least cost alter-native if any additional upfront costs will be offset by the resulting environmental, flood protection, and resiliency benefits. 

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