May 19, 2014

Rahall Statement on House Consideration of WRRDA Conference Report

House Floor Remarks of U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, II
Conference Report on H.R. 3080
Water Resources Reform and Development Act

Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the conference report.  This legislation is a reminder, and unfortunately a stark reminder, that when given a chance working together in a bipartisan fashion can produce solid results for the American people.

I salute the chairman of our Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Bill Shuster, for his tireless efforts in this regard, and as well, our Subcommittee Chairman and Ranking Member Bob Gibbs and Tim Bishop.

One of the first acts of our federal government was to improve navigation.  On August 7, 1789, the First Congress federalized the lighthouses built by the colonies and appropriated funds for their operation and maintenance.

Today, in the 113th Congress, we keep faith with that fundamental premise of government by advancing legislation that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation on our inland waterways and our ports.

This is an effort which has languished these past seven years, and the results of that inactivity are evident.

In 1989, a book by the author John McPhee described the Corps as follows:  β€œIn addition to all of the things the Corps actually does and does not do, there are infinite actions it is imagined not to do, and infinite actions it is imagined to be capable of doing, because the Corps has been conceded the almighty role of God.”

And indeed, the history of the Corps is one of constructing incredible feats of engineering to assist navigation and to combat the ravages of flooding.  

Yet, in recent times we have fallen into deficit when it comes to this infrastructure.  Aging locks and dams hinder the efficient movement of waterborne commerce, and many of our coastal ports are ill-prepared to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal because their harbors need to be dredged and in some cases deepened.

The pending legislation will revitalize our inland waterway system so that bulk commodities such as coal can be transported more efficiently.  And it provides a path forward to spending down the funds currently being held hostage in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.  

Further, it wrests back control to the Congress, to elected officials, decision-making authority over future Corps endeavors rather than ceding this responsibility to the Administration as is currently the case.

One aspect of this legislation of which I am especially pleased to see is the application of the Buy America provisions for steel and iron that exist in the Federal surface transportation program to projects constructed by the Corps of Engineers.  

That provision further defines this legislation as being about jobs.  Jobs to construct flood control projects, jobs to expand our harbors, jobs to make improvements to our waterways – and American jobs in the production of the iron and steel which goes into these works.

 I reserve the balance of my time.