Oil industry presses for swift passage of waterways bill

By Ariel Wittenberg, Tiffany Stecker | 04/13/2016 07:15 AM EDT

The oil industry is hoping Congress can swiftly consider and pass a waterways reauthorization bill without unrelated issues getting in the way.

The oil industry is hoping Congress can swiftly consider and pass a waterways reauthorization bill without unrelated issues getting in the way.

As Congress begins to consider the Water Resources Development Act, the American Petroleum Institute yesterday said the legislation was key to keeping the industry competitive.

To that end, Robin Rorick, API director of midstream operations, said his organization was hoping Congress was able to work out a separate aide package for Flint, Mich., without folding it into WRDA.


"Flint could take a focus off what we want. We want WRDA to focus on WRDA issues, but Congress is Congress, so we have no control over what they put in there," he said yesterday.

Michigan lawmakers have for months been pressing Congress to help Flint recover from widespread lead contamination in drinking water.

"We are not engaged in the Flint issue, but we are hopeful that Congress can work out its Flint issues so that it is not in the WRDA bill," said Rorick.

The oil and gas industry is not the only sector rooting for WRDA. Agricultural commodity groups, local communities, manufacturers and even some environmental organizations are also pushing for the bill, which would authorize the study and construction of public works and ecosystem restoration projects.

But an election year presents tough odds for the passage of any major legislation. "That is why we are pushing to get this through as quickly as possible, so it is not impacted by the election," Rorick said.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are hoping some of the bipartisan teamwork that helped pass a surface transportation reauthorization bill last year will rub off on WRDA.

With Inhofe termed out as chairman and Boxer retiring, both have an impetus to see the waterways bill pass by the end of their terms (E&E Daily, Feb. 11).

‘Pamphlet’ WRDA

On the House side, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has said he would push for a "pamphlet" WRDA light on policy initiatives.

WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pursue waterways projects using money from either the Inland Waterways or Harbor Maintenance trust funds.

Petroleum products make up roughly 41 percent of commodities transported by waterways in the United States. Also, American water transport supports $1.7 trillion in foreign oil trade. The industry depends on well-dredged harbors and functioning locks and floodgates.

"The part that is challenging is that these pieces are public goods that are supported by public infrastructure dollars," Rorick said. "Those are things that we cannot control very well."

Congress last authorized Army Corps work on those programs in 2014, but many key projects have not progressed as planned (E&E Daily, June 12, 2015).

"When companies are having to light load their barges, or when vessel traffic is being limited by shipping lanes that used to be two lanes but now there is a bottleneck because of silt, we are already seeing that being built into our costs," said Rorick.

API is not "cherry-picking" which projects Congress should prioritize in the bill, Rorick said, but the group does want some project completion dates moved forward.

"The more we can see these locks and dams elevated and pushed forward and getting the funding they need to start working on, the better," Rorick said.

Flint’s congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D), said WRDA was a possible vehicle for Flint aid if the Senate energy package fell through, but it’s not the only one.

Lawmakers could also add money via the fiscal 2017 appropriations process, though the prospect that Congress will pass individual spending bills this year is "iffy."

"At the end of the day, if we haven’t done anything by the time we’re looking at trying to get an omnibus through, unless there is an appropriations process that been completed, that’ll be the process," he said during a water regulators conference yesterday.