WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives recently passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve our nation’s water infrastructure, such as dams, locks, ports, navigation channels and inland waterways.
This bill will advance the modernization of America’s critical corridors of commerce that enable the efficient transport of American-produced commodities, including West Virginia coal.
As the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I had a key role in negotiating the final version of the bill. And, along with Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, I introduced the original House bill, which resulted in a bipartisan, bicameral agreement that passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 412-4.
It was a refreshing change of pace to break free of the legislative gridlock that has stymied Washington for so long. It was a real achievement to have gotten something significant done to advance our state’s and nation’s economy. This bill proves that bipartisanship is still alive on Capitol Hill for those of us willing to work together for the betterment of our nation.
This bipartisan jobs bill will revitalize our inland waterway system so that bulk commodities such as West Virginia coal can be transported more efficiently. Critically, this bill expands the Buy America requirements placed on future Army Corps projects, ensuring that more of our nation’s infrastructure is made in America by Americans.
The Buy America provisions in particular further define this legislation as being about jobs - jobs to construct flood control projects, jobs to expand our harbors, jobs to make improvements to our waterways - and American jobs in the production of the iron and steel which goes into these works.
As our nation’s leading coal exporter, West Virginia relies heavily on water infrastructure to reach foreign buyers. In fact, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. waterways and ports directly support 9,890 jobs in the Mountain State and contribute $1.6 billion to West Virginia’s economy.
Commodities travel to and from West Virginia on many vital transportation links, such as the Ohio River, Allegheny River, Monongahela River, and the Mississippi River. The Port of Huntington Tri-State alone moves 45 million tons of coal annually and supports more than 12,000 jobs.
My position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the perennial reauthorization of the Army Corps’ work to maintain and improve our state’s and nation’s ports and waterways and other water infrastructure, has enabled me to do much good for our region’s people and economy.
It allowed for the creation of the Army Corps Sec. 340 Infrastructure Program, which has provided tens of millions of dollars over the years to construct new water infrastructure projects in southern West Virginia, including projects for wastewater treatment and the design and construction of water supply, storage, treatment, and distribution facilities.
It allowed for the construction of flood control projects, like the Island Creek project in Logan County, and the expansion and maintenance of outdoor recreational activities at Beech Fork and East Lynn Lakes, and especially Summersville Lake, where I helped to authorize seasonal releases from the Summersville Dam for whitewater rafting.
It even has allowed for the preservation of our historical sites, such as the Jenkins House, home of Confederate Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins, in Lesage.
The investments made possible by this bill support jobs throughout our state and nation on our waterways, our farms and fields, on shop floors and in our mines.
WRRDA will lay the foundation for economic growth for many years to come.
Rahall represents West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.