The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently released H.R. 5303, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. The House legislation includes authorizations for key civil works missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including inland waterway navigation and port dredging—infrastructure investments that are vital to manufacturers and our competitiveness. The bill also aims to ensure continued investment in harbors and includes a provision that ensures the ad valorem duties collected on imports going into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) would be fully utilized for maintenance of ports and harbors beginning in 2027, essentially creating a firewall to protect funds.
Most importantly, this bipartisan legislation shows support in Congress to return to a regular two-year WRDA process. Holding a hearing just last week to discuss the bipartisan support for the authorization of 28 Army Corps projects, the committee is anticipated to move swiftly and hold a markup for the legislation this Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. Senate counterparts in the Environment and Public Works Committee already introduced legislation in April, S. 2848, which has passed out of committee and is awaiting floor time. Though there are significant differences between the House and Senate bills, there is wide agreement on the need to accomplish WRDA legislation this year.
Unlike the House proposal, the Senate WRDA bill authorizes additional drinking water and wastewater resources and provides a vehicle to address the Flint crisis. Senators also included a new program to increase grant funds for drinking water infrastructure through the offering of an optional 3 cent label for manufactured products that in turn generates income for a strictly voluntary Water Infrastructure Investment Trust Fund, a provision manufacturers are concerned will be taken out of context in time and evolve to a mandatory tax.
Manufacturers praise this early authorization effort, well in advance of the September 30 legislative deadline. Too frequently, Congress has leaned on short-term authorizations and extensions for infrastructure, creating a stop-start dynamic that makes it difficult to pursue large projects of regional and national significance. Manufacturers are optimistic that Congress will continue to work in a bipartisan way to advance key infrastructure priorities.