The Senate Wednesday voted 83-14 in support of the Water Resources Development Act, a bill that authorizes Army Corps projects on major inland waterways in the United States, and includes a provision that partially alleviates EPA fuel storage restrictions.
The bill calls for diversion of more funds to river dredging and port maintenance through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and removes the Olmsted Lock and Dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, thereby freeing up about $750 million to be used elsewhere.
An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was also approved, as were prioritization regulations for navigation projects and stricter oversight on the Corps' project cost estimates.
Fifty-seven percent of the locks and dams on the nation's inland waterways system have exceeded their economic design life expectancy, according the Waterways Council, Inc. The group said the bill will "meaningfully modernize the nation's inland waterways transportation system, create American jobs, increase exports, keep our nation competitive, and inject billions of dollars into the U.S. economy."
Senators also passed another amendment to exempt some farms that store oil in above-ground tanks from Environmental Protection Agency oil spill regulations.
Specifically, the amendment creates a temporary 6,000-gallon aggregate above-ground oil storage exemption threshold pending the completion of an EPA - USDA study to set a permanent exemption threshold for farms between 2,500 and 6,000 gallons.
The amendment further allows farms to self-certify their spill prevention plans if their aggregate above-ground oil storage is between 6,000 and 20,000 gallons.
Cattlemen's Association says one amendment was missed
Despite overall support, not all of ag was pleased with the bill. An amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to stop the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps from finalizing a rule that could federalize all waters was not approved. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supported the amendment.
NCBA said the amendment would have prevented an "overreaching jurisdictional guidance" by the EPA and the Corps, and without it, the rule will have a devastating effect on farmers and ranchers.
"If finalized, [the Clean Water Act Jurisdictional guidance document] would be the biggest federal land-grab in history, requiring cattlemen to apply for permits to conduct everyday activity such as cleaning out a ditch," said Ashley McDonald, NCBA's deputy environmental counsel.
"Congress, to date, has refused to clarify what constitutes a 'water of the United States,' despite the Supreme Court's multiple calls to do so. Without such clarification, the Obama administration has taken great liberty in crafting guidance that through ambiguous and ill-defined terms allows EPA to claim that any water body is a 'water of the U.S.,'" McDonald added.
Overall, however, ag and waterways groups were in support of the bill passage.
"The Senate's passage of the Water Resources Development Act is a huge step toward getting new locks and dams on our vital waterways transportation systems," noted Illinois Corn Growers Association President Paul Taylor. The group's members have in recent years experienced infrastructure issues on the Illinois and Upper Mississippi Rivers.
American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy also signaled support.
"While ASA supports additional measures not included in S. 601 to increase revenues for the IWTF and establish alternative financing mechanisms in order to provide more money to address inland waterways infrastructure projects, we appreciate the significant progress that is made by S. 601."
The bill will now move to the House.