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US waterways bill commended

US waterways bill commended

(Posted on 31/07/20)

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) has commended the US Congress for passing by a unanimous voice vote the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 (H.R. 7575).

The House bill includes two key NGFA priorities – an increase in the federal share of the funding for inland waterways projects and full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).

NGFA, established in 1896, consists of more than 1,000 grain, feed, processing, exporting and other grain-related companies that operate more than 7,000 facilities and handle more than 70 percent of all U.S. grains and oilseeds. Its membership includes grain elevators; feed and feed ingredient manufacturers; biofuels companies; grain and oilseed processors and millers; exporters; livestock and poultry integrators; and associated firms that provide goods and services to the nation’s grain, feed and processing industry.

“To maintain American agriculture’s competitive transportation advantage against other countries, stakeholders must relentlessly make the case for continued investment in U.S. waterways infrastructure,” said NGFA Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy Bobby Frederick. “Today’s bipartisan vote in the House brings Congress one step closer to achieving new WRDA legislation in 2020. NGFA will continue to work with both the House and Senate in an effort to ensure these policy wins for inland waterways and ports are reflected in the final agreement. An efficient waterborne transportation system is crucial for growing the American economy and job creation, and is vitally important to U.S. agricultural exports and their positive contribution to the U.S. balance of trade.”

WRDA legislation provides authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement water resources development projects. Since 2014, Congress has successfully enacted three consecutive WRDA bills on a biennial basis. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved WRDA 2020 on July 15 and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its version of the legislation — dubbed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (S. 3591) — in May.

The NGFA submitted a July 14 letter in support of H.R. 7575, which outlined priorities for the grain, feed and processing industry in the legislation. In addition, NGFA spearheaded a July 28 support letter from the Agricultural Transportation Working Group signed by 27 organizations.

H.R. 7575 would expedite completion of inland waterways projects by changing the cost-share formula from the current 50 percent general revenue and 50 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) funding to 65 percent general revenue and 35 percent IWTF. The trust fund consists of revenues generated by barge fuel taxes assessed against commercial users of the inland waterways.

“It is well known that the majority of the nation’s locks and dams have outlived their 50-year design life and changing the cost-share is one prudent way to address this problem and bring U.S. waterways infrastructure into the 21st century more quickly,” Frederick said.

The Senate’s legislation also includes the same change in the cost-share amount, and also contains a beneficial provision that would make the cost-share change permanent instead of expiring in fiscal year 2027, as the House bill stipulates.

H.R. 7575 also would allow access to the existing balance of funds within the HMTF. Currently, more than $9 billion has been collected and deposited in the fund but gone unspent for its intended purpose.

“Allowing full use of the [HMTF] for its intended purpose would correct the fiscal disservice to those that pay the 0.125 percent ad valorem tax based upon the value of cargo imports and would help restore the United States’ comparative transportation advantage,” Frederick said.

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