CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives this week -- under the stewardship of Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., among others -- would mean billions of dollars for the United States' network of inland waterways and ports.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 passed by a vote of 417-3 on Wednesday.
Rahall, top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., sponsored the bill. The bill will now go to a House-Senate conference committee; the Senate passed a similar bill earlier this year.
Transportation Weekly, a publication of the Legislative Services Group based in Front Royal, Va., called the vote "a triumph" for Shuster and Rahall, who "fought to restore the bipartisan tradition of the T&I panel after those traditions broke down" under earlier committee leaders.
"When most people think about how our coal gets moved from the mines out to the markets, they immediately think of freight rail," Rahall said in a statement. "We are just as dependent on our nation's system of inland waterways and our network of ports for the transport of coal throughout the country and, indeed, the world.
"This legislation, approved by the House, authorizes needed funding for the modernization of these watery corridors of commerce so that our commodities can reach overseas markets efficiently and support job growth in our state," Rahall said.
Before the bill passed, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spoke in favor of it on the House floor.
"West Virginia is in the Ohio River basin, where coal makes up 59 percent of the shipped tonnage," she said. "Domestic power plants rely on our rivers to maintain a steady supply of coal, and our country's coal exports have nearly doubled in the last four years."
Capito called the bill's passage a "significant victory for West Virginia jobs, for American jobs."
The Associated Press reported that Shuster convinced some of the House's most conservative members to support the bill, despite outside right-wing groups like FreedomWorks, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Heritage Action for America that urged House members to vote against the bill.
Rahall said he was "proud of the manner in which [the bill] was crafted.
"Chairman Shuster and I worked cooperatively to produce a bill that received unanimous support in our committee and which garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in the full House," he said. "This bill is an example of the type of progress we can make when Congress puts the rhetoric aside and concentrates on results that benefit our country."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com of 304-348-5164.