By Kathleen Hunter
May 22 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate cleared for President Barack Obama’s signature a $12.3 billion water-projects bill that lawmakers said would boost dredging to accommodate bigger ships built to transit the Panama Canal.
The measure, passed 91-7, is on track to become the first water infrastructure bill enacted since 2007. It would authorize 34 projects including dredging, flood control, hurricane recovery and environmental restoration.
“It is past time for a new authorization bill to invest in the nation’s water infrastructure,” California Democrat Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said on the Senate floor yesterday.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, H.R. 3080, would revamp the way major U.S. shipping projects are funded. The bill would allow ports to pay the cost of deepening harbors up front and seek reimbursement from the government once a project is authorized by lawmakers.
That could help facilities such as Port Everglades in South Florida reduce construction time by years.
The measure would expand the number of U.S. ports that can handle super freighters built by Maersk Inc. and Mediterranean Shipping Co. to take advantage of the expanding Panama Canal. Expanded capacity would reduce shipping costs for exporters including Caterpillar Inc. and Cargill Inc.
Ports and waterway operators have called for increased spending to prepare for new supertankers that will transit the Panama Canal after its $5.2 billion expansion, scheduled to be completed by 2015.
Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who opposed the measure, said there had been “some improvement” in terms of removing politically driven projects.
“But it’s not nearly enough,” said Coburn, who characterized the measure as “bureaucratic excess.”
The House passed the legislation 412-4 on May 20.
–With assistance from Derek Wallbank in Washington. Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.