|By TIM ALEXANDER
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Since a conference report on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) could not be hammered out before the 109th Congress ended their final 2006 session, the entire process of passing the bill in both the U.S. House and Senate will have to be repeated during the 110th Congress of 2007-2008.
According to the river conservancy group MARC 2000 the bill, which was passed by the House in 2005 and the Senate in 2006 and was in front of Congress conferees when the 109th Congress expired, is hung up over the McCain/Feingold provision. The provision, brought through an amendment to the Senate bill authored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), provides for independent review processes on the Corps of Engineers. This provision and a “host of other issues” must be reconciled with the House version of the bill before passage, according to MARC 2000.
“The divide was just too great…with that little time to get this done,” a spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee told CongressDaily after the 109th Congress adjourned.
The 110th Congress convenes in January. It is not known when conferees will again address WRDA, a bill, which would authorize construction of seven 1,200-foot locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, as well as an extensive ecosystem restoration project.
National Corn Growers Associa-tion (NCGA) President Ken McCauley said that though the bill fell victim to politics and the “congressional blame game” in 2006, the organization is looking to the next Congress to keep their word and make WRDA an early priority.
“Pre-election promises that WRDA would be a key component of the lame duck congressional agenda were broken and corn growers are tired of broken promises,” McCauley said. “NCGA and state associations have worked for over 15 years to modernize our nation’s waterways infrastructure, partnering with industry, labor and conservation groups in an effort to pass WRDA.”
McCauley warned that without significant upgrades to the river system’s locks and dams, producers and consumers will face increases in operation and transportation costs in addition to decreasing export opportunities that will negatively impact agriculture’s global competitiveness.
Illinois Department of Agriculture director Chuck Hartke told reporters during a conference call that he was disappointed when Congress failed to pass a finished WRDA bill to President Bush before adjourning.
“Illinois has a huge stake in this because we have 15 locks and dams on the Mississippi River that borders Illinois, seven on the Illinois River and one on the Kaskaskia River. Illinois exports a lot of products down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, where they are loaded and shipped worldwide. If we don’t stay competitive, it will mean an economic disadvantage to us,” Hartke said.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) has indicated he is committed to making WRDA a priority when he takes over committee chairmanship in January. “If WRDA is not concluded, it will be at the top of our agenda (when the 110th convenes),” Oberstar announced during a November press conference.
“We will aggressively seek assurance that Rep. Oberstar, who has pledged publicly to make WRDA a priority for next Congress, will follow through,” McCauley added. “NCGA also looks forward to working with the new leadership in the Senate to move WRDA forward.”
This farm news was published in the Jan. 3, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.