WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, made the following statement today after being appointed to the bicameral conference committee for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA):
"I am pleased to once again be a conferee for the WRDA bill," said Inhofe. "Maintaining and modernizing Oklahoma's ports and waterways is essential for supporting and expanding our state's booming industries. Oklahoma's inland ports like the Port of Catoosa connect our exports from energy to agriculture to the global marketplace. Many of these water transportation systems are aging and have become overburdened, and I believe this conference will be successful in addressing such needs that will help move our economy forward.
"I appreciate Congressman Mullin's representation of Oklahoma on the House version of WRDA as well as the unified vote of the entire delegation. I look forward to building on the work of my colleagues in the House and strengthening provisions in conference in the best interest of Oklahoma and the nation."
The following members of the EPW committee were also appointed as conferees, Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.), Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
This is the eighth WRDA reauthorization Inhofe has been a part of during his time in Congress.
On May 15, the Senate passed S.601, the Water Resources Development Act, which Inhofe was able to ensure the following provisions were included:
Expansion of the Port of Catoosa
Inhofe Amendment 797 would allow the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to exchange land currently owned by the Army Corps of Engineers with land owned by the Port Authority. The land exchange will allow Port operations to expand and attract industrial growth to the region.
Examination of Unfair Federal Water Pricing Practices
Communities across the country are exploring long-term water supply solutions for their citizens. Unfortunately, water storage supplied by the Army Corps of Engineers can be cost-prohibitive due to archaic water storage formulas that produce highly disparate water storage prices. Section 2016 would require a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on water storage pricing formulas and allow Congress to address water storage pricing issues.
Currently, the City of Bartlesville, Okla. pays $68 per acre/ft. for water on Lake Hulah. Proposals for purchasing water from nearby Lake Copan were quoted to be $1,997 per acre/ft.
Provides Water Infrastructure Financing to Rural Communities
During Markup, Sen. Inhofe worked with the EPW committee to authorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. The WIFIA program is modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program included in the 2012 MAP-21 highway legislation and would allow for much needed financing for water infrastructure projects. Sen. Inhofe introduced Amendment 835, which would ensure small, rural municipalities can compete with larger metropolitan areas for WIFIA financing by lowering the cost threshold for qualified projects from $20 million to $5 million for communities with less than 25,000 residents. By creating a lower project cost threshold for smaller communities, this amendment will provide financing to rehabilitate crumbling drinking and wastewater treatment facilities, improve storm water management, and enhance waterway infrastructure and storage facilities for rural communities.
Expands Local Control Over Project Development
In an effort to expedite projects, section 2026 authorizes a program whereby non-federal sponsors may conduct previously authorized feasibility studies on their own. Tulsa County would be able to compete in the program, which would allow them to conduct a feasibility study for the Arkansas River Corridor Development Project.
Exempts Small Farms and Ranches From EPA Regulations
Inhofe secured a permanent exemption from the EPA's Spill Prevention Control Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for farmers and ranchers. Inhofe championed an amendment that would exempt all tanks of 1,000 gallons or less from the rule, and farms with an aggregate tank storage capacity of 2,500 gallons or less would not have to comply with the rule. Farms with tank storage capacities of between 2,500 gallons and 6,000 gallons would have a temporary exemption, pending a study by the United States Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The provision also greatly limits the instances when professional engineers must certify spill plans.
Removes Federal Red Tape on Local Water Use
Inhofe worked with members of the EPW Committee to addresses water shortfalls across the country like the cities of Duncan, Lawton, Comanche, Temple, Walters and Waurika are experiencing. Section 3008 would authorize the reassignment of unused irrigation storage on Waurika Lake to be used for various municipal purposes in the region.
Ensures Local Stakeholder Involvement on Important Waterway
Language in section 5006 would establishes an advisory committee for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) to be made up of system stakeholders who will provide recommendations to the Corps of Engineers relating to efficiency, reliability, and availability of MKARNS.
Accelerates Emergency Construction on McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigations System
Inhofe Amendment 867 would allow for non-federal sponsors of Corps of Engineers projects to contribute funding to the operations and maintenance of the project during an emergency or natural disaster. Doing so would expedite funding for significant projects since the sponsors will no longer need to wait on the federal government to grant additional emergency funding to the project.
Lifts Federal Prohibition on Locally Generated Power
Inhofe amendment 895 would allow entities such as the Cherokee Nation to construct, operate, and market a hydroelectric generating facility on the W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River.
Expedited Project Delivery and Accountability
The WRDA bill has a number of important environmental permitting streamlining provisions that will ensure that duplicative and onerous environmental reviews do not hold up projects indefinitely. Failing to make these reforms increases costs to the taxpayer and creates a chilling effect on the private sector’s willingness to invest in local communities and industries that rely on our nation’s inland waterway to transport goods and services to markets in the U.S. and around the world.
It also sets up a process for better coordination between the Corps of Engineers and other federal and non-federal participants in the project review process. It expands the role for state and local agencies, sets up a comprehensive issue resolution process, and creates deadlines for when comments must be made on environmental documents. Additionally, it includes provisions to ensure that additional environmental reviews are completed within 180 days of the main environmental document.