The doggedness Senator Boxer used to get a surface transportation bill last year is now focused on a maritime transportation bill. One of Boxer’s highest legislative priorities for 2013 is to pass “WRDA” – essentially the maritime version of MAP-21. WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) authorizes the projects and programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is the primary source of federal funding for maintaining U.S. sea and river ports. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is financed through a fee on the value of cargo imported through coastal and Great Lakes ports.
As was the case with surface transportation, it’s been a number of years since Congress last enacted a WRDA bill (2007). The backlog of projects to keep ports and rivers operating a high level is growing. Maritime stakeholders – including the businesses who export and import goods through ports – are anxious because if funding continues at current levels, by 2040 the U.S. will face a shortfall of nearly $28 billion to meet the dredging needs (according to ASCE).
Below is Boxer’s prepared opening statement for her committee’s January 31 hearing entitled, “The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Need to Invest in the Nation’s Ports.” Also see our past stories on ports and freight.
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Before we begin the first hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) in the 113th Congress, I would like to welcome the Committee’s new ranking member, Senator Vitter. For many years, Senator Vitter has been a leader in calling for investment in our nation’s ports. I am excited about the opportunity to work together with Senator Vitter and the other members of this Committee on this and many other important water infrastructure issues.
Today’s hearing will examine the role of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund in supporting commerce at our nation’s ports.
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is the primary source of Federal investment to maintain America’s ports. The Trust Fund is financed through a fee on the value of cargo imported through coastal and Great Lakes ports.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, if funding continues at current levels, by 2040 the U.S. will face a shortfall of nearly $28 billion to meet the dredging needs of the nation’s ports. As we will hear from our witnesses today, this funding gap can have significant economic consequences.
Increasing investment in ports and reforming the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will be critical components of the next Water Resources Development Act – known as WRDA.
Senator Vitter and I have already begun working together on this vital legislation which supports water resources infrastructure nationwide. WRDA authorizes the projects and programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and provides many benefits to the American people – including expanding and maintaining navigation routes for commerce.
In the coming weeks, I intend to move forward with a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act. Senator Vitter and I look forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance a bill, and we are optimistic that we can repeat last year’s success on MAP-21.
As we will hear from our witnesses today, adequate investment can boost the economy and create jobs. U.S. ports and waterways, many of which are maintained by the Corps of Engineers, moved 2.3 billion tons of goods in fiscal year 2011. In my home State of California, our ports are some of the busiest in the world.
Continued maintenance of port facilities is critical for the commerce and jobs that rely on these economic hubs, and that is why we must increase investment from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Currently, the Trust Fund collects more revenues than are annually spent for maintaining ports.
In fact, in FY 2013 the Obama Administration estimated that the Trust Fund would receive $1.8 billion but the Corps of Engineers budget request was only $848 million. This leaves a growing surplus — at a time when many of the nation’s ports are not maintained to their authorized depths and widths.
Significant challenges remain in working to ensure that revenues collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are fully expended, including identification of necessary offsets. I look forward to collaborating with all of my colleagues as we look for creative solutions to this challenging issue.
In addition, we must also look at ways to ensure that ports which collect the most Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenues receive an equitable share of Federal investment. Currently, some of these ports receive only a fraction of the funds that users of their ports pay into the Trust Fund.
I have proposed a provision for the next WRDA bill that would increase equity for ports nationwide. The provision would allow certain ports to use harbor maintenance funds for limited additional uses after other traditional operation and maintenance needs are met. This would be an important step forward in ensuring our nation’s most essential ports receive an equitable share of harbor maintenance revenues.
I am grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their interest in this issue and for their participation in today’s hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the importance of the nation’s ports and how we can increase investment in these vital economic hubs.