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Groups urge President Bush to sign waterways bill

The National Corn Growers Association is urging President Bush to sign — not veto — the Water Resources Development Act conference report that passed the House and Senate by wide margins.

NCGA and the American Farm Bureau Federation have been pushing for legislation that would modernize the nation’s inland waterways lock and dam system for more than a decade. The WRDA was last authorized in 2000 and was expected to be renewed in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Failure to reach agreement on several proposals on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reform and new environmental resources included in the legislation have stalled action on the bill. The White House has said President Bush would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.

“After years of work and months of extensive negotiations, Congress has delivered a WRDA conference report that represents a meaningful and responsible legislative package,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer in a letter to Bush.

Litterer, a corn, soybean and hog farmer from Greene, Iowa, said the bill addresses issues such as environmental restoration, navigation, flood control, hurricane protection, water supply and irrigation.

“Improvements in these areas will contribute mightily to the well-being of the nation, serving us well in the years to come,” said Litterer.

The letter noted the overwhelming support WRDA received from the Senate (81 to 12) and the House of Representatives (381 to 40) and called on Bush to sign the bill into law without delay.

“Now it is time for you to show leadership and make a commitment to maintaining a world-class inland navigation system. We cannot afford to wait any longer,” said Litterer. “If we fail to move forward, the world will look elsewhere for a reliable supplier of basic food commodities. The administration simply cannot let this happen.”

“Improvements to locks and dams on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers are needed if American agriculture is to remain competitive in a global economy,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said. “At least 25 percent of American agricultural cash receipts come from exports, and much of it moves down the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

“The provisions contained in this bill will help ensure that U.S. agriculture will be able to compete with Brazil and China and other countries that have invested heavily in their infrastructures.”

The legislation also authorizes the Army Corp of Engineers to undertake water infrastructure improvement projects across the United States. The proposed projects range from flood control and dam safety initiatives to storm damage reduction and environmental restoration efforts.

Stallman said supporters of new WRDA legislation must also turn their attentions to ensuring the requisite dollars are appropriated to implement the provisions contained in the conference report.

The Bush administration has objected to the overall cost of the bill, which is projected around $21 billion. One reason the cost of the bill is high is because Congress has not approved a WRDA bill since 2000, AFBF officials said.

The Water Resources Development Act has never been a priority issue for Southern farmers who often command a premium over Chicago futures because of their proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. But Southern growers have become more interested in the bill because of the potential growth of the ethanol industry in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

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