The $37.5 billion fiscal 2017 spending bill is important to members of the NGFA and other agricultural stakeholders that rely on the inland waterways to export grains, oilseeds and other agricultural products, and to obtain farm inputs like fertilizer for crop production. The NGFA particularly noted the importance of the bill allowing for the full use of the estimated revenues coming into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, as well as for providing $3.17 billion for operations and maintenance to keep the existing lock and dam infrastructure functioning and for increasing funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
This is the first time since 2009 that the Senate has passed under "regular order" an energy-water spending bill.
"The NGFA commends Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein and their colleagues in the Senate for their leadership in passing this bipartisan measure that builds on much-needed critical investments in U.S. waterways," said Bobby Frederick, NGFA director of legislative affairs and public policy. "We will continue to advocate for waterways infrastructure funding, as most of our nation's locks and dams are well beyond their 50-year projected lifespan."
Maintaining locks, dams and harbors is crucial to the nation's export industry, as the U.S. exports nearly one quarter of the grain it produces. Export-bound barge movements account for the transport of 61% of corn, 42% of soybeans, 40% of wheat and 26% of sorghum.
In a letter sent March 11 to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Energy-Water Subcommittee, the NGFA and 19 other members of the agricultural transportation working group asked for continued strong investment in the nation's waterway infrastructure. The letter noted that having access to a modern and efficient inland waterways transportation system is vital to the efficient production, marketing and shipment of agricultural products in international commerce.
The House has not yet passed its energy and water appropriations bill approved out of committee in April, but it is expected to be one of the first to reach the floor for a vote once full debate can begin on individual appropriations bills after May 15. The House version of the bill also contains strong funding levels as well as NGFA-supported language prohibiting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from using funds to implement the "waters of the United States" rule.