President Obama on Tuesday signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act into law, authorizing a host of Army Corps infrastructure improvement projects and funding reorganization plans that many farm groups believe will advance efficiency of grain and ag input shipping on inland waterways.
The bill was approved by the House on May 20 and the Senate on May 22, both with strong bipartisan support. A waterways bill has not been reauthorized for 7 years, bucking a previous trend of reauthorization every two years.
The sluggish process was a topic of discussion Tuesday during the President's remarks at bill signing.
"During my State of the Union address, I asked Congress to pass this bill by the summer, and I congratulate this outstanding crew for getting it done," President Obama said.
"Many of America's businesses ship their goods across the country by river and by canal, so we've got to make sure that those waterways are in tip-top shape," he said. "World-class infrastructure is one of the reasons that America became a global superpower in the first place."
The bill changes the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam completion, authorizing 85% of the funding to come from the federal government and only 15% from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
The change makes approximately $105 million per year available for funding other Trust Fund priority projects, including construction on locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers – key Midwestern grain thoroughfares.
The bill also revamps how Army Corps projects are prioritized, and puts a renewed focus on completing projects on tighter timelines and budgets.
Finally, the bill includes a farm and ranch exemption for the Environmental Protection Agency's Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure rule which allows farmers to self-certify on-farm fuel storage up to 6,000 gallons.
Though farm groups were pleased with the bill's signing, they also suggested that changes to barge user fees will improve infrastructure even further.
"It is imperative that we continue our momentum related to waterways improvements by passing the diesel user fee," said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre, adding that more than 60% of U.S. grain exports are transported by barge.
"By increasing this tax between six and nine cents per gallon of fuel, the industries using the waterways would be able to provide needed funds for the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure on which they rely," he said. "Notably, all parties which would be subject to this tax have publicly stated their support and recognition that the revenue raised would play a vital role in maintaining infrastructure key to their economic well-being."
Click here to read full text of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.