Congressman Tom Rice (SC-07) today released the following statement upon the House passage of the Conference Report to H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA):
“I am proud to have worked so closely with my colleagues on the conference committee to ensure our final Water Resources Bill makes our country and ports more competitive," said Congressman Rice. "This reformed-focused legislation upgrades and maintains ports of all sizes, from San Diego, Baltimore, Georgetown, Charleston, and down to Miami. Since one in five jobs in South Carolina are tied to the Charleston port, it is critical that it continues to thrive and that our Georgetown Port is made functional again. This bill is good for our country, and I look forward to seeing it approved by the Senate and signed into law by the President.”
Congressman Tom Rice and fellow conference committee members have been working on this report since the House of Representatives passed WRRDA on October 23, 2013 by a vote of 417 to 3. As the only member of the South Carolina delegation selected to serve on the bicameral Conference Committee, Congressman Rice made it his priority to see that the Palmetto State's ports were included in the final Water Resources Bill. Once approved by the Senate, the conferenced Water Bill will be sent to the President to be signed into law.
Additional background on the WRRDA Provisions Congressman Rice Championed in the Bicameral Conference Committee:
Non-federal Interest Ability to Construct:
Today’s Conference Report will include language to allow harbor deepening construction to move forward in the absence of a Congressional authorization. This was also included in both the underlying House and Senate versions of the bill, but was preserved by Congressman Rice in Conference.
Expedited Authorization (Charleston language):
In the event that Congress fails to pass an authorization bill in the future, but a port has received it’s Chief’s Report, the House version allowed non-federal interests, meeting certain guidelines, to start their construction. Additionally, the House bill included language ensuring non-Federal interests, meeting certain guidelines, would be eligible for federal share construction and Operation & Maintenance costs, if the reimbursement is sought after Congressional authorization. Both of these provisions were championed by Congressman Rice in the House bill and preserved in the Conference Report.
Without a path to authorization, the Port of Charleston and others could be stalled for an indefinite period of time, while awaiting Congress to act.
Emerging Harbor Projects Language (Georgetown):
Due to efforts by Congressman Rice, both the House and Conference Report for WRRDA will include language that redefines projects and updates the eligibility criteria for those ports defined as Low Use and Emerging Harbors. The term “Emerging Harbor” will now be defined as a port that transits less than 1,000,000 tons of cargo annually. An Emerging Harbor is also assisted by allowing the Secretary of the Army, through the Army Corps of Engineers, to consider the national and regional significance of a harbor when evaluating its eligibility for operations and maintenance funds. By redefining our nation’s low use ports, this new distinction will open up new funds to go towards the operations and maintenance costs of consistent dredging. Congressman Rice also changed the amount of federal dollars that Emerging Harbors like Georgetown will be eligible to receive.
- First, from fiscal years 2015 through 2022, the Secretary of the Army is required to allocate not less than 10 percent of annual operation and maintenance funds to address the maintenance dredging needs of Emerging Harbors.
- This extends the number of eligibility years for these types of ports from the original House version, due to Congressman Rice’s work in Conference.
- Second, for any funds appropriated to address the operation and maintenance needs of harbors that are above the 2012 baseline (“priority funds”), for fiscal years 2015 through 2024, the Secretary of the Army is directed to allocate 10 percent of priority funds to meet the use of emerging harbors.
- This 10 percent allocation of priority funds for emerging harbors is in addition to the 10 percent allocation (for fiscal years 2015 through 2022) within the 2012 baseline. This is an increase from the current 6 percent eligibility.
- It is the intent that the 2012 baseline be considered as the funds made available to address the operation and maintenance needs of harbors in appropriations, not including supplemental appropriations for that year.