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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CASEY. Madam President, I rise today to speak about the bill we are considering, but also to speak, in particular, about one aspect of the bill. We know the legislation as the so-called WRDA bill, the Water Resources Development Act, and I want to express strong support for the legislation.

This bill is, in fact, bipartisan, which is something we need more of around here. It provides for, among other things, flood protection, safe drinking water, wastewater infrastructure, and protects the flow of commerce along our Nation's rivers and waterways.

I am grateful for Chairman Boxer's efforts, Ranking Member Vitter, and all the Members and staff of the Environment and Public Works Committee for their dedication to writing a bill that addresses the challenges facing our country's water systems.

I want to speak in particular about inland waterways.

Our Nation has--for many years now, many generations--a system of locks and dams that play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs and supporting economic growth throughout the country.

I know in my home State of Pennsylvania, even though I had been a State official for a number of years, I did not have a full appreciation of what this meant until about July of--I guess it was the first week of July 2007, when I was able to tour and actually see these major barges up close out in southwestern Pennsylvania and to be able to see the movement of coal or other commodities or energy resources across our waterways and what that meant to the economy of southwestern Pennsylvania but, indeed, the economy of our Commonwealth and our country.

So when we hear the phrase ``locks and dams'' in Pennsylvania, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania, we do not think of some far off concept; we think of commerce and the movement of commerce and the jobs and the economic growth that comes from that.

Unfortunately, this system, this inland waterways system, is facing major challenges--challenges that threaten in ways that some of us could not imagine even a few years ago.

The inland waterways system offers the most cost-competitive way to transport our commodities. It moves some 20 percent of the coal that is used to power our Nation's electricity, much of it from Pennsylvania; also 22 percent of our petroleum products; and more than 60 percent of export grain, which is moved because of this system.

The shippers who produce or manufacture these commodities are in danger of losing their competitive edge unless we focus on proper funding for the lock-and-dam infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the locks and dams of our Nation have far outlived their design life. There has not been sufficient investment to make headway in replacing these locks and dams. But I am hopeful provisions I and others have worked on in the Water Resources Development Act, which we are considering now, will address the challenges facing this system.

Provisions from my bill--which, by the way, goes by the acronym RIVER; the RIVER Act--that are included in the bill we are considering will institute a number of project management reforms that will make sure future lock-and-dam projects are built in the most cost-effective way possible.

We cannot ask for a greater commitment to the system or a greater investment without making sure we are also providing reforms.

These reforms include risk-based cost estimates and an external peer review process for Army Corps projects across the Nation. This will help ensure that locks and dams in the projects that are undertaken are constructed in the way that is most efficient. We also want to make sure we have cost estimates that are realistic and, of course, avoid cost overruns.

One of the provisions of the bill will also adjust the current cost-sharing system by increasing the threshold for the industry to contribute to major rehabilitation projects to $20 million. This will allow for more funding for lock-and-dam projects, which is badly needed right now.

These provisions in the overall water resources bill are common sense. They also happen to be fiscally responsible proposals that will significantly improve our Nation's inland waterways system and help to ensure our Nation's waterways can continue to be an effective method to ship commodities.

Well, how do we pay for that? Well, a rather interesting development for Washington, which I am about to describe for you: I am grateful so many of the provisions in my bill have been included, but we also need to have an important conversation about how to finance this system and to keep the inland trust fund sustainable in the long term.

I filed an amendment, amendment No. 854, that will raise the barge user fee from 20 cents per gallon to 29 cents per gallon. This fee has not been raised since 1986 and, as a result, is not keeping up with inflation and project costs.

We have great bipartisan support for this amendment. Senator Alexander is leading this effort with me, and the amendment is cosponsored by the following Senators: Mr. Blunt, Mrs. McCaskill, Mr. Durbin, Ms. Stabenow, Ms. Klobuchar, Ms. Landrieu, Mr. Franken, and Mr. Harkin--indicating the wide reach of the inland waterways system and its impact on so many industries in so many States across the country.

The current rate--the barge user fee of 20 cents per gallon--right now is not raising sufficient funding to keep up with operations and maintenance needs along the reach of the system. If we do not make this investment now, it could have dire consequences to multibillion-dollar industries that rely on the use of locks and dams to move their goods. Just consider coal being one of those examples.

All 300 users of the inland waterways system support this increase. Let me say that again because this does not happen very much in Washington: All 300 users of the inland waterways system support this barge user fee increase from 20 cents per gallon to 29 cents per gallon.

Here we have an example of an industry that is forward looking in asking Congress to allow them to pay more in order to make critical investments in their own infrastructure.

In addition to the support of industry, the user fee increase is backed by a diverse array of organizations across the country, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers Union, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau, the AFL-CIO, and over 250 national and local organizations, including barge operators, agriculture, energy and civics and conservation groups.

In southwestern Pennsylvania alone over 200,000 jobs rely on the proper functioning of locks and dams on the lower Monongahela River. For those who do not know, it is a river on the western end of our State that flows into the city of Pittsburgh--one of the three rivers we describe as part of our landscape in Pittsburgh.

If one of these locks were to fail, it would endanger all 200,000 jobs and have a negative impact of over $1 billion just in that region, not to mention the adverse impact beyond the region. Raising the user fee now will help prevent a catastrophe in the near future.

I understand there are objections to addressing important concerns about including a funding fix for locks and dams in this bill due to the so-called blue-slip concerns that involve the House of Representatives.

I will work to look for other vehicles so we do not continue to kick this can down the road, and I will talk to Members of the House to include this fix in their version.

If we cannot raise revenue on an industry that is asking to pay more so they can invest in their infrastructure, I am afraid the future of our waterways system is in great jeopardy.

Many of my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of providing a way to pay for investments we need in our locks-and-dams system, and I urge the House to follow suit. I have no doubt they want to do the same.

We cannot squander critical foundations that have made America what it is. Reinvesting in our Nation's waterways will allow us to seize economic opportunities to remain competitive in the world and protect and create jobs for generations to come.

I will note one citation of history, from a major volume in Pennsylvania history. This goes back to the 1800s when we developed a canal system to move commodities and commerce across our waterways. I will read one sentence from page 180 of a book entitled ``Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.'' Here is what they said all those years ago in the 1800s, talking about coal:

Through those routes, anthracite coal left Pennsylvania for England, Russia, Central Europe and Asia.

But the reason that coal was able to get to those places is because we had a system in place to move it.

What we do not want to have today in our time is a system that breaks down because we are not willing to make the investment. As I said before, this investment is supported by all of those organizations but especially the 300 users who are willing to invest more so that tomorrow will be bright and we can move commerce across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across our country.

I yield the floor.


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