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American Shipper

House passes appropriations bill with HMT funding increase

Energy and Water appropriations bill includes infrastructure funding and policy measures favored by the transportation sector.

   The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the fiscal year Energy and Water Appropriations bill with more funding for Army Corps of Engineers navigation missions that are important to inland waterway users and seaports.
   The Corps’ Operations & Maintenance account is funded at $3.01 billion, the highest amount ever appropriated to the account in an annual spending bill and the third consecutive year of record-level O&M funding. It is almost $390 million higher than in the administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.
   An amendment by Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and Janice Hahn, D-Calif., increased the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund level by $36.3 million from the amount in the original bill to reach the $1.25 billion target set in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which simply authorizes congressional action. The new level is $150 million, or 14 percent higher than last year’s $1.1 billion for maintenance dredging, and well above the $915 million the administration requested from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to do that work.
   WRRDA established a phased approach to appropriating the full amount of taxes collected from port users (shippers, who pay a fee based on the value of imports and goods moved between domestic ports; and cruise passengers) to fund maintenance of navigation channels. The government collects about $1.8 billion in taxes each year, but previously had only appropriated half the money for its intended purpose and applied the rest for other budgetary uses. Last year, 67 percent of HMT receipts were directed for dredging. Under WRRDA, more HMT receipts will be appropriated for dredging each of the next 10 years, when the entire trust fund is scheduled to be fully used by the Army Corps to maintain the authorized depths and widths of channels.
   A second amendment was also adopted to uphold donor equity provisions in the WRRDA legislation, which sets up a prioritization schedule for how a certain portion of the funds are distributed between large, mid-size and smaller ports, and allows ports that contribute to the fund but don’t need much dredging to use money for alternative projects such as landside improvements.
   The language was necessary to clear up any uncertainty about whether the Army Corps needed to follow the new WRRDA allocation formula.
   The appropriations bill also provides $340 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for priority navigation projects, fully using all the revenues collected, including the 9 cent per gallon increase in the barge fuel fee enacted by Congress in late 2014.
   The Senate must still vote on an E&W appropriations bill and the White House has signaled that President Obama could veto the bill if it includes reductions to certain energy programs that are administration priorities.

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