From the earliest days of our nation, waterways and seaports have played a vitally important role in a healthy American economy and continue to be an integral part of commerce in a global marketplace. Here in Central Washington, the Columbia River system is critical for the transportation of farm and manufacturing goods to international ports, power generation, farm irrigation, navigation, and flood control by way of our dams.
On Oct. 23, the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) with overwhelming bipartisan support. This bill makes much-needed improvements to our water transportation infrastructure, including safeguards for dams and ports in the Pacific Northwest.
At its core, the House-passed WRRDA bill is a jobs bill that will improve United States commerce by bringing common sense reforms that promote fiscal responsibility, cut bureaucratic red tape, streamline processes and save taxpayers money. For instance, the study for Corps of Engineers projects currently takes more than 15 years — not counting the years it takes to complete construction. This bill would require the agency to complete their study of a project in 3 years.
The House WRRDA bill contains no earmarks and makes major reforms, such as de-authorizing $12 billion of old and inactive projects, to increase transparency, accountability, and Congressional oversight. It also establishes an innovative public-private partnership program to help finance, manage, and carry out construction of public works projects by involving the private sector.
In the Pacific Northwest, multi-purpose dams and reservoirs provide the economic backbone for our region. However, various proposals have been made to allow unelected bureaucrats to make significant changes with the stroke of a pen on how these dams are operated. This would erode government accountability and limit public input, and could have a significant impact on our power bills in the Pacific Northwest. I am pleased that the House-passed bill includes a provision I authored to reinforce Congress’ authority to determine how these projects are operated and clarifies that, if changes need to be made, they will be made by Congress in the open — not under the cover-of-darkness by unelected bureaucrats.
One in three jobs in Washington state is reliant on international trade, which is largely due to the ability to move goods down the Columbia River system to international ports in both Washington and Oregon. Nationally, our trade volume is expected to double within the decade, and double again by 2030. America must be ready for this expected growth so that we can remain globally competitive.
The consequences of inaction by the United States are significant. If our port and waterways infrastructure becomes less reliable and less efficient, not only will transportation costs rise, our producers’ competitive advantage will shift to Brazil and other countries eager to expand their economies and increase their abilities to attract private sector job-creators.
Our Founding Fathers included a provision in the Constitution ensuring Congress plays a clear federal role in transportation infrastructure and interstate commerce. This laid the groundwork for connecting American consumers, manufacturers, and farmers to national and worldwide markets. I am pleased that this WRRDA bill continues Congress’ commitment to sustaining and enhancing our nation’s water resources system that American families and businesses rely on — today and for generations to come.
Doc Hastings represents central Washington state in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources.