What certainly can be considered one of the signature legislative initiatives of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster’s political career became law on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama signed the Conference Report to the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
It is designed to enhance the nation’s water transport network by improving infrastructure and streamlining governmental processes. Shuster, the 9th district’s congressman from Hollidaysburg, introduced the bill into the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 10-year, $12.3 billion spending plan authorizes 34 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, ranging from port improvements in major cities such as Los Angeles, New Orleans and Boston, to ecosystem enhancement in the Chesapeake Bay, Florida Everglades and Columbia River, while also de-authorizing some $18 billion in old, inactive projects.
It is the nation’s first water resources policy update in seven years.
“WRRDA cuts red tape, reforms the bureaucracy, and accelerates the delivery of water resources infrastructure projects, but it does much more than that,” said Shuster, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “This new law will help ensure the country has a modern, efficient transportation network, something that is fundamental to a stronger economy, keeping America competitive, and encouraging job growth. This is an immense accomplishment for the Congress and America.”
The legislation expands the ability of nonfederal interests to contribute funds to studies, projects and the permitting process.
“You’re seeing in WRRDA more flexibility for nonfederal funds to be considered,” said Jeff Hawk, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District.
The bipartisan conference report passed the House by a vote of 412 to 4 and the Senate 91 to 7.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, signed on as a co-sponsor.
“Rivers were America’s first interstate highway system and to this day they play a central role in our economy, especially in western Pennsylvania,” said Rothfus, the 12th district’s congressman.
“Strengthening inland waterway infrastructure will make our nation more competitive in the global marketplace and grow our economy. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act reforms the approval process and improves our nation’s ability to maintain critical water infrastructure and transportation systems, including 17 locks in western Pennsylvania in need of repair.”
Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey supported the bill that was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
“From dredging the Delaware River, to restoring and maintaining western Pennsylvania’s locks and dams, water infrastructure is essential to our state,” said Toomey, a Republican.
“This bipartisan legislation is a win for both Pennsylvania and the American taxpayer. Congressman Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, deserves much credit for his leadership in crafting a bill that funds $12 billion worth of badly needed infrastructure improvement projects in a fiscally responsible manner.
“In addition to water infrastructure construction, this legislation includes other provisions that I also championed such as giving federal and local agencies the tools they need to prevent the invasive Asian Carp species from reaching Lake Erie and important permitting reforms for Pennsylvania energy producers.”
WRRDA includes multiple ideas proposed in Casey’s Reinvesting In Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act, including having permanent cost-sharing for the remainder of the Olmsted Lock and Dam Project.
“I’m pleased that both chambers of Congress passed WRRDA and that President Obama signed this bill into law today, which includes major portions of my RIVER Act that will create jobs, grow our economy and make essential upgrades to the country’s aging locks and dams,” Casey said.
“Pennsylvania’s locks and dams play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs and supporting economic growth throughout the country. In southwestern Pennsylvania alone, over 200,000 jobs rely on the proper functioning of the region’s inland waterways system.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.