It’s All Connected: Reform Essential Compenent of House Legislation

Reform is an essential component of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013. Changing the way the Army Corps of Engineers delivers its civil works projects at the ports and along the inland waterways is critical to successfully expanding the nation’s economic potential. It’s also good stewardship to ensure taxpayer resources are used efficiently on important infrastructure projects.

As a nation, we need to be making investments in infrastructure because manufacturers are depending on highways, rails, inland waterways, ports and airports to receive raw materials and deliver finished products. According to a recent survey of NAM members, 65% do not believe that infrastructure, especially in their region, is positioned to respond to the competitive demands of a growing economy over the next 10-15 years and we need to address that gap now.

The bipartisan government funding bill, which passed Congress last week, contained a provision that prevented the shuttering of a key Army Corps waterway project known as the Olmsted Lock and Dam.  That project is in its second decade of construction. While not well understood, the provision kept an ongoing project on track and does not increase its funding. If the Olmsted Project were to have shut down this month, it could have cost the federal government additional millions of dollars in unrelated construction costs due to an unnecessary work stoppage.

While the Olmsted Project in Illinois has a long and complicated history, it is one of the reasons why the reforms contained in WRRDA are so important to those who depend on the inland waterways. Further, Olmsted should serve as a reminder that inland waterway users who pay millions every year into the Inland Waterway Trust Fund should not be expected to bear the financial burdens of over $2 billion in federal agency cost overruns.  Poor execution of this project has come at the expense of other inland waterway modernization efforts that are needed to keep manufacturers and other industries globally competitive.

In addition to measures that will improve project management and seek to prevent another Olmsted situation, new deadlines, concurrent reviews and streamlined environmental reviews will support a new process that that cuts red tape and saves time – taking years off a process that today can amount to 15 years or more for a water resource project.

The merits of infrastructure project review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are not in question. What is in question is the lack of discipline and lack of consistency in the federal government’s approach to administering NEPA requirements.

H.R. 3080 seeks to address the government’s self-inflicted needless delays in reviewing critical water resource projects. Republicans and Democrats, especially House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are to be commended for their leadership and support for improving a broken environmental review process that has become unpredictable and wasteful.

Environmental streamlining is a proven federal practice with roots in the 1998 transportation authorization which called for better coordination of the federal environmental review process under NEPA for highway and transit projects. More importantly, it works. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently found that environmental streamlining has cut the time to permit a highway project in half, from 73 months down to 37 months.

The most recent surface transportation authorization, MAP-21, institutionalized the successful practice of concurrent federal agency review with deadlines and best practices learned over the years to prevent endless bureaucratic delays without sacrificing the environment. WRRDA environmental streamlining language is modeled after provisions in MAP-21 and manufacturers appreciate this common-sense approach to modernizing our nation’s infrastructure.

It’s All Connected is a blog series by manufacturers focused on the need for authorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

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