Timeliness of Energy and Water Act Welcomed

Capitol Hill

Published Sep 13, 2018 6:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Congress has passed the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1 - for the first time since 2004. In the case of Energy & Water Appropriations, this means the Corps of Engineers will receive its full funding rather than operate from a Continuing Resolution that provides the previous fiscal year’s funding level. 

The act bundles three of the 12 fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills. The Energy and Water Development appropriation funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ navigation program, including deep-draft navigation construction and maintenance. Having the appropriation enacted will enable the Corps to maximize efficient use of the funds, especially with seasonally restricted dredging events in the first and second quarters of the fiscal year. Enactment eliminates 2019 work being subject to using continuing resolutions, which provide partial funding based on the previous year’s appropriation.

The appropriations bill includes $1.54 billion for Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT)-funded work, which is 91 percent of the estimated fiscal 2018 HMT revenues of $1.687 billion and a 10 percent increase over fiscal 2018 HMT funding of $1.4 billion. As such, the bill continues the trend of hitting or exceeding the HMT funding targets, set in WRDA 2014, for the fifth year in a row. 

The bill also increases funding amounts and allows new starts in both the Corps of Engineers’ investigations and construction accounts. 

Furthermore, it funds Donor and Energy Transfer ports at $50 million, the full amount authorized for the program and the amount that the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) requested in its August letter to House and Senate conference committee leaders in support of the Corps’ navigation program funding. 

The AAPA has welcomed passage of the bill, with Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO, saying: “Federal investments in navigation-related infrastructure are an essential and effective utilization of limited resources, paying dividends through increased trade and international competitiveness, sustainable job creation and more than $320 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenues.”

The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) has also praised Congress highlighting that FY19 appropriations funding levels for the Corps’ Civil Works program is $6.99 billion, up 46 percent from the Administration’s request of $4.79 billion. This is the fourth consecutive year that Congress has increased funding for the Corps. Appropriations funding for Operations & Maintenance is a record $3.74 billion, up 25 percent from the Administration’s request of $3.00 billion. Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) funding is $326.5 million, up 833 percent from the Administration’s request of $35 million to fund only the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River.

The final conference report retained a Senate floor amendment offered by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) to change the cost-share at Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River to 85 percent Federal funding and 15 percent from the IWTF (from 50 percent Federal funding/50 percent IWTF funding). This change will allow full work plan allocations to the top five IWTF-supported projects. Specific project funding amounts will be released 60 days after enactment of the bill by the Corps in its FY19 work plan. 

WCI President & CEO Mike Toohey said, “With the dedication of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project last month, strong funding for the Corps in fiscal year 2019 and a potential final WRDA bill in 2018, the inland waterways’ many beneficiaries and the U.S. economy have much to celebrate.”