|By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dealing with Gulf Coast hurricanes, immigration reform and confirmation hearings for key government appointees are just some of the issues that have combined to push the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2005 to the U.S. Senate’s back burner during the current legislative session.
Proponents of the bill that would provide funding for key upgrades to locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers turned up the heat on the Senate recently to schedule a vote on the bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last year.
The National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA), the Midwest Area River Coalition (MARC) 2000, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC), the American Land Conservancy and more than 80 senators joined forces May 2 to urge Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to bring WRDA up for vote on the Senate floor - soon.
“Our transportation infrastructure on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers is working on borrowed time,” said Ken McCauley, NCGA first vice president. “The infrastructure is almost 20 years past its life expectancy. If our trade goals are to be fully realized, we must have a modernized and efficient river transportation infrastructure to secure our global and competitive future.”
According to the NCGA, 81 senators, including Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, signed on to a letter urging Frist to attach the bill to the Senate’s voting schedule.
“America’s farmers and the environment stand to benefit from modernizing the locks and dams,” Harkin said. “Providing better shipping lanes for our grain exports is essential for America’s farmers to compete internationally. We are fast approaching the time when we’re going to be playing catch-up to foreign competitors instead of staying ahead. This infrastructure modernization needs to begin as quickly as possible.”
McCauley said that along with benefiting agricultural interests, the passage of the bill would be beneficial to other industries, as well.
“Our affiliation with the carpenters union is important. It gives us a different perspective on the impacts of getting this bill passed. For the carpenters, it means jobs. And it’s not just about commodities moving down the river; there are all sorts of products shipped up the river,” McCauley said.
UBC member Dale Roth told Frist exactly why WRDA passage would be beneficial to organized labor.
“River infrastructure and construction of the seven new locks means 48 million man-hours and 3,000-6,000 jobs a year,” Roth stated. “This bill is important for not only maintaining the jobs and the industry we have on the river, but it’s about the future industries that will come to the river because of the modernization.”
Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Waterways Caucus, is one of the legislators pushing Frist to call the bill to the floor for a vote.
“The modernization of our water infrastructure is critical to our economy. This legislation means jobs for Americans, and it will allow us to maintain our ability to efficiently move products and commodities on the Mississippi River while protecting the environment,” Talent said. “We must pass this legislation now to make the necessary updates to our locks and dams on behalf of Missourians and others who depend on the rivers for their livelihood.”
Aside from allowing funding for repair and rebuilding of locks, WRDA also provides a number of reforms to improve the rivers’ ecosystems. WRDA gives authority to the Army Corps of Engineers to do island building, construction of fish passage, floodplain restoration, water level management, backwater restoration, side channel restoration, wing dam and dike restoration, island and shoreline protection, boost topographical diversity, dredge material for environmental purposes, tributary restoration, land easement authority and land acquisition, according to a press release from Harkin’s office.
“With over 80 senators in support, there simply is no legitimate reason the WRDA bill remains blocked. I urge the Majority Leader to bring this legislation up and pass it,” Harkin said.
The NCGA is urging corn growers to continue the push to pass WRDA in the Senate by calling 1-888-WHY-CORN and asking Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to bring the bill to the floor during this legislative session.
This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.