Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 23, 2014

Water infrastructure: House measure a positive step

— — It is being called the closest thing to an infrastructure bill advanced by Congress so far this year. The $12 billion-plus bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed by the House earlier this week authorizes federal funding for 34 water projects across the nation, including flood protection and infrastructure upgrades to dams, navigation channels and inland waterways.

The measure, introduced by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., cleared the House by an impressive vote of 412-4. The measure now moves to the U.S. Senate where lawmakers could act on it as early as today. Locally, Rahall points out that the measure will help West Virginia’s coal industry as the Mountain State is the nation’s leading coal export. As a result, West Virginia relies heavily on water infrastructure to reach foreign buyers.

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. And commodities travel to and from West Virginia on many transportation links, including the Ohio River, Allegheny River, Monongahela River and the Mississippi River. Rahall, who is the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says the Port of Huntington Tri-State alone moves 45 million tons of coal annually and supports more than 12,000 jobs.

Supporters of the House measure, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the Water Resources Reform and Development Act will create thousands of new jobs while also helping to boost the national economy.

The measure is a step in the right direction. We have ignored our nation’s infrastructure for far too long due to the bipartisan gridlock that has largely crippled Washington in recent months. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act merits approval in the U.S. Senate as well. And it should be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

But this is just one positive step. There is much more Congress should and must be doing.

For example, what we really need now is a new long, term, federal highway bill to help jumpstart long-stalled and critical infrastructure projects such as the King Coal Highway right here in Bluefield, as well as the two-state Coalfields Expressway — a project that will benefit both southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

Yes, we must reign in wasteful government spending. No, we can’t let our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate. We must reinvest in our nation’s infrastructure. And it must be done in a way that is fair and bipartisan in nature.

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