America wins with the WIIN Act

Later this week, the House of Representatives will end out the year by voting to approve critical legislation for our economic competitiveness and domestic security. You may think the legislation has to do with the Defense Department or Homeland Security, but you would be wrong. The bill in question is the Water Infrastructure Investments for the Nation (WIIN) Act, and at its core is legislation that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been working on for months to address the needs of the Nation’s water infrastructure system.

The first title of the WIIN Act is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA); legislation to authorize improvements in America’s locks, dams, and harbors and support targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs. This sweeping legislation will benefit nearly every corner of the country, including those without immediate access to a coastline or major river system.

Most Americans may not think they interact with our national water infrastructure on a daily basis, but they’d be surprised to learn that nearly everything they use, purchase or rely on traveled at one point or another over water.

Consider this: $230 billion in goods move over America’s inland waterways system every year. Ninety-nine percent of our overseas cargo moves through our ports.

These statistics aren’t unique to the United States. Our competitors make use of their own waterways to move goods and they are making investments to push their advantage in the global marketplace. America cannot afford to be complacent.

Take the Panama Canal. In June of this year, the canal officially completed a major expansion project that allows cargo vessels carrying three times the number of containers to pass through its locks. However, fewer than 10 American ports have the physical requirements necessary to dock these massive ships. If the ships cannot dock, they cannot offload imported goods to our market. More to the point, if the ships cannot dock, they cannot load American exports for markets overseas.

You don’t have to look to Panama to find examples that demonstrate the importance of our water infrastructure. In my home state of Pennsylvania (not a state known for its beaches), the Upper Ohio River’s Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery (EDM) locks and dams are becoming structurally unreliable and are long overdue for an upgrade. These facilities provide critical access to the Port of Pittsburgh, the country’s fourth busiest inland port. Without the improvement authorizations included in WRDA, the locks and dams that feed into this port would continue to degrade, imperiling millions of tons of industrial, manufacturing and agricultural commodities that depend on access to over 10,000 miles of inland waterways the port makes available.

Across America, projects of regional and national concern are waiting for Congress’ authorization, but any action we take must be focused, tailored and accountable to the American people. My colleagues and I have worked hard to reform the WRDA authorization process to establish a locally-driven, accountable process for Congress to quickly review, approve and oversee the essential work done by the Army Corps of Engineers. These reforms were included in the last WRDA authorization in 2014 are have been carried forward to the WIIN Act this year.

WRDA echoes Speaker Ryan’s pledge to return the House to regular order by maintaining a biennial legislative review. In service to good government, the legislation accomplishes a specific, critical federal responsibility and is laser focused on authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers’ water resources activities. WRDA is an example of Congress working as it was intended and in the best interest of the public good.

Maintaining our water resources infrastructure ensures that pathways for growth are kept open and that America remains competitive. A failure to invest in maintaining and improving the country’s waterways, harbors, locks and dams, and flood protection infrastructure would be a failure to invest in our economy. That is unacceptable. Congress must pass the WIIN Act.

Congressman Bill Shuster, R-PA-09, is the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee