Here’s an update from Rebecca Schneider of the Detroit Regional Chamber on the proposed Great Lakes legislation in Congress:
In a strong bipartisan vote, the House passed its Water Resource Reform and Development Act (HR 3080) last week. The 417-3 vote had only two Republicans — Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) — and one Democrat, Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), voting against the measure. This lopsided vote is a great victory for the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee after the past few weeks’ bitter political division over the Continuing Resolution and debt limit. This is also a great victory for our Coalition! Passing this bill is a key priority. We were even successful on almost all the amendments we cared about. And, along the way our collective efforts helped shape the debate and change the language.
Rep. Candice Miller’s (R-MI) provision designating all ports, harbors, and connecting channels on the Great Lakes as a single, comprehensive navigation system for management and budgeting purposes was included in the bill. HR 3080 also covers a wide range of waterway construction projects and authorizes upgrades of locks and dams along the inland waterways.
During the debate on the House floor, Rep. Miller mentioned our Coalition’s support and Rep. Bradley Schneider (D-IL) mentioned the Great Lakes Navigation system provision. Many legislative offices responded to our Coalition letter regarding our position on proposed amendments. These are all tangible signs that our Coalition’s message is being heard and we are seen as a resource on Capitol Hill.
Overall, the House passed bill is a good result for Great Lakes interests. The House WRRDA bill includes a portion of the language we requested regarding the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) which ramps up spending of taxes collected by setting out annual goals for appropriating trust fund money collected each year. (The Senate’s bill includes complimentary language regarding harbor maintenance funding.) No House amendments that would have a substantive negative impact on the Great Lakes or HMTF funding or allocation were accepted. The only amendment we opposed that was accepted was an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) , and it only would result in the Corps providing the Congress an assessment of expanded HMTF use costs.
The House bill must now be reconciled with a version passed in the Senate in May. The two measures are more similar than different, but there are a few important distinctions that could become points of contention in the conference committee. Importantly, the Senate version includes a funding set-aside for the Great Lakes that we support. Our Coalition will begin some behind the scenes work to request that Great Lakes legislators be appointed to the Conference Committee, starting with Rep. Miller and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY). As always, we will keep you posted on any significant developments or opportunities to communicate with your legislators.