Water Infrastructure and Funding Bills this week (7-14)

Committee Leaders Introduce Bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020)

On July 13, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), and Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) introduced the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA). This legislation provides authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to carry out water resources development projects and studies, as well as reforms and policy direction to the Corps for implementation of its civil works missions. The Committee is set to mark up this legislation on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Specifically, WRDA 2020 authorizes 35 Corps feasibility studies and construction of all 34 pending proposed projects with final Chief’s Reports within the Corps Civil Works mission areas, including navigation, flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction, shoreline protection, and ecosystem restoration. Regular consideration of locally-driven, rigorously-studied, and nationally-significant water resources infrastructure is key to preserving our Nation’s economy, to protecting our communities and businesses, and to maintaining our quality of life. This work, typically carried out by the Corps, is made possible through enactment of WRDA.

Committee markup on Wednesday, July 15

IRPT depends heavily on our industry partners, National Waterways Conference (NWC) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) to break down the details of legislation, such as WRDA 2020. Thanks to their perspectives for the below (and color coded to reflect each organizations perspective). Some key provisions in WRDA 2020 are:

  • Changes the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund formula: establishes new targets for emerging harbors, donor ports, and Great Lakes Harbors at 20 percent, 10 percent, and 12 percent respectfully.
  • Modifies cost share for inland waterways projects: Until 2027, the cost share for construction or major rehabilitation of inland waterways projects will be 65 percent from the general Treasury fund and 35 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (from 50%/50%). This also includes a provision that any project that begins construction within this timeframe will carry the 65%/35% cost-share all the way through to the end of its construction.
  • Allows the Corps to assume operation and maintenance responsibilities for navigation: Under Section 105, the Corps is given authority to assume operation and maintenance of non-Federal navigation projects where project improvements differ from the national economic development plan.
  • Finalize Corps rules on Principles, Requirements and Guidelines (PR&G): Section 109 of WRDA 2020, requires the Corps to issue agency procedures on PR&G within six months of the passage of the bill. As part of this process, the Corps is required to consult with stakeholders and review the PR&G every five years.
  • Allows the Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) to use natural or nature-based infrastructure: Under Section 113, it authorizes Corps use of natural infrastructure for small flood risk management projects.
  • Addresses levee safety: Section 134 instructs the Corps to work with non-federal sponsors on levees that have engineering and maintenance deficiencies by identifying the specific problem(s), recommended remedies and estimated costs.
  • The bill would also authorize the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Brazos River Floodgates and Colorado River Locks.

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Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2021 Energy and Water Development Funding Bill

On Monday, July 13, The House Appropriations Committee today approved the fiscal year 2021 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies bill on a vote of 30 to 21. The legislation funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior programs, the Department of Energy, and other related agencies.

For fiscal year 2021, the Energy and Water Development bill invests $49.6 billion in Energy and Water Development programs, an increase of $1.26 billion, or 3 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. To respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic recession, the bill provides an additional $43.5 billion in emergency spending.

Overall proposed funding for the Corps is $7.63 billion, a decrease of $21 million below FY20’s record-setting appropriated level, but $1.7 billion above the President’s FY21 budget request.

  • The House bill also provides for seven new study starts and seven new construction projects to be selected by the Administration, one of which is for inland waterways lock and dam modernization.
  • The Corps’ Investigations account funding is $151 million, equal to the FY20 enacted level and $48 million above the FY21 request.
  • Funding for the Construction account is $2.62 billion, a decrease of $61 million below FY20’s level, but $447 million above FY21’s request.
  • The Inland Waterways Trust Fund funding level is $90 million for a total of at least $180 million in funding for Construction and Major Rehabilitation of inland waterways projects.
  • Funding for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) is $3.84 billion, an increase of $48 million above FY20 and $1.8 billion above the Administration request.
  • Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) projects receive $1.68 billion, $50 million above the FY20 level and an increase of $665 million above the Administration’s request. This represents 92% of estimated HMTF revenue, an increase of 9% above the target set by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

Last week, NWC sent out several news alerts out of the high-level numbers and provisions in the package. We briefly alluded to $17 billion in emergency funding to help financial recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, of which $110 million is slated for feasibility studies. Most notably under this provision, it states that the Secretary can initiate new project starts with these funds. Under the construction emergency fund, money is set aside for water related environmental infrastructure assistance and for inland waterways projects. Furthermore, like the investigation’s language, the Secretary can initiate new construction starts. Finally, we discussed some riders that may be of interest including one that prohibits the Corps from being moved from under the Department of Defense umbrella and another that prohibits funding from being spent on a border wall.

On another note, the Financial Services appropriations bill contained a rider that limits OMB’s authority over Corps water resource projects. The language states that OMB may not use FY2021 funds to alter the Corps annual work plan nor can the monies be used “directly or indirectly” by OMB for “evaluating or determining if water resource project or study reports…are compliant with existing requirements. Moreover, the language states that OMB is limited to 60 days to undertake budgetary policy reviews on reported Corps water resource issues. When the 60-day review is initiated, OMB is required to notify both relevant authorizing and appropriations committees. At the end of the review period, OMB is required to submit a report to those committees within 15-days of the end of the 60-day review.

While House leaders indicated earlier in the month their plan to pass all appropriations bills before August recess, a floor schedule for the bill has not been released. Nor has the Senate Appropriations Committee released a calendar for committee action. Due to the limited amount of time before Congressional recess, and the increased focus on other issues listed in the overview, it seems more likely that some appropriations bills may have to be bundled together in a minibus or a larger omnibus to meet the statutory deadline of the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

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The Senate remains out of session this week, but returns next week. The House, working remotely on FY21 appropriations bills and other Committee work. When Congress returns next week, it is a very short sprint to the August recess, currently scheduled to begin on August 1 for the House and August 8 for the Senate. Congress returns after the Labor Day holiday in September for a few weeks, but will be almost entirely focused on the November elections.

To learn more about National Waterways Conference (NWC), please go to www.waterways.org

To learn more about Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), please go to www.waterwayscouncil.org