On Tuesday, May 20, 2014, the House will consider the conference report to accompany H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development (WRRDA) Act of 2014, under suspension of the rules. The conference report was filed on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
The conference report authorizes thirty-four water resources projects that have completed the technical review by the Corps of Engineers (Corps) and are recommended by the Chief of Engineers. It also modifies an additional eight previously authorized water resources projects, as project cost increases require congressional approval. The conference report requires the Secretary of the Army to annually publish a notice in the Federal Register requesting proposals for project authorizations, studies, and modifications to existing Corps Projects. The bill creates expedited mechanisms for the House and Senate to authorize Corps projects and establishes a new, transparent process to review and prioritize future water resources development activities with improved Congressional oversight. To offset the costs of new authorizations, the conference report establishes a process that deauthorizes $18 billion in old, inactive projects previously authorized, prioritizing the oldest projects that have been inactive the longest. After a 180 day period of Congressional review, the projects are automatically deauthorized. In order to prevent backlog, the new authorization process sunsets newly-authorized projects. The conference report further requires the Secretary of the Army to identify and reduce the inventory of properties that are not needed for Corps activities.
This legislation also addresses the need for program reforms and streamlining. The report sets a hard deadline on the time and cost of studies at three years and $3 million. The conference report also: requires the consolidation of studies; streamlines environmental reviews; eliminates duplicative analyses; and expedites the evaluation and processing of permits. Moreover, the conference report enhances safety and protects communities by strengthening the National Dam Safety Program, and authorizes the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Administrator of FEMA, to carry out levee safety initiatives, including the establishment of voluntary levee safety guidelines and technical assistance to State to create local levee safety programs. Overall, this legislation authorizes $395 million to support levee safety initiatives. The conference report also authorizes the Secretary of the Army to evaluate alternative levels of restoration for federal flood damage reduction projects affected by extreme weather events, and encourages the Corps to use resilient construction techniques and innovative, durable, and sustainable materials when carrying out water resources development projects.
In addition, the conference report sets target expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), increasing each year until Fiscal Year 2025, when 100 percent of the funds collected will go to operation and maintenance (O&M) activities. The bill also allocates 10 percent of HMTF expenditures for emerging harbors. For funds appropriated to address O&M needs of harbors above the Fiscal Year 2012 baseline, the Secretary is directed to meet priority needs of high-use harbor projects, underserved harbors, emerging harbors, and the Great Lakes. This legislation requires an assessment of the O&M needs of U.S. harbors, and prioritizes future O&M expenditures. Moreover, the conference report reforms the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by including structural reforms to the Corps’ planning process and increased congressional oversight. It also frees up funding to support additional priorities and reduce the backlog of other inland waterways projects.
The conference report increases flexibility for non-federal interests and leverages private sector investments to increase the effect of federal funding. Specifically, the bill strengthens the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund Program and establishes water infrastructure public-private partnership pilot programs to finance construction of at least 15 authorized water resources development projects. Moreover, it establishes a five year pilot Water Infrastructure Finance Innovations Authority (WIFIA) to provide assistance to projects with the goal of reducing flood damage; restoring aquatic ecosystems; improving inland and intracoastal waterway navigation systems; building wastewater treatment work and desalination plants; and acquiring the land needed to complete these projects. Finally, it maximizes the ability of non-federal project sponsors to contribute their own funds to move studies and projects forward, and expands opportunities for non-federal interests to carry out feasibility studies.
A section-by-section analysis of the conference report can be found here.
On October 23, 2013, the House passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 by a vote of 417-3 (See Roll Call #560). The Senate passed the bill, with an amendment, by unanimous consent and requested a conference on October 31, 2013. The House adopted a motion to disagree to the Senate amendment and agree to a conference on November 14, 2013.
Nearly one-third of America’s GDP is derived from international trade, and 99 percent of that trade passes through the nation’s ports. Thirty million jobs are related to international trade, and $200 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue is generated by our ports each year. Transportation accounts for as much as ten percent of the total product cost for the food, clothing, and other goods we buy on a daily basis. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is vital for maintaining the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy.
The Army established the Corps as a permanent branch in 1802 and since that time, its civil works mission has evolved significantly. An overview of the Corps’ regulatory jurisdiction is available here. “Under its civil works program, [the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] plans, builds, operates, and maintains a wide range of water resource facilities. Its civil works responsibilities are principally to support navigation, reduce flood and storm damage, and protect and restore aquatic ecosystems.” Corps activities require congressional authorization, which can be project-specific, programmatic, or general. However, authorizations are insufficient for a Corps study or project to proceed; and “action on an authorization requires funding.” Annual flood damage prevented through the Corps mission are estimated at $22.3 billion.
Authorizations for Corps activities traditionally have been provided in omnibus WRDAs, “making certain projects and activities eligible for receiving federal funding.” WRDAs also establish policies for Corps civil works activities. “Historically, water resources legislation has been enacted every two years to provide oversight of and policy direction to the Administration and the Corps of Engineers. But since such a measure has not been enacted since 2007, Congress has been silent on needed reforms and has failed to take action to develop, maintain, and support our Nation’s vital water infrastructure needs.” H.R. 3080 addresses this by authorizing key missions of the Corps and providing an opportunity for Congress to make critical policy reforms.
 Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: WRRDA Booklet at 4.
 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Mission Overview.
 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Regulatory Jurisdiction Overview.
 CRS:Army Corps of Engineers: Water Resource Authorizations, Appropriations, and Activities (Oct. 18, 2013) at 1.
 Id. at 1-2.
 Id. at 2.
 Committee Report 113-246, Part 1 at 45.
CBO estimates that implementing this legislation would cost $12.3 billion over the 2015-2024 period. This cost is fully offset by $18 billion in project deauthorizations contained in the bill.
For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.