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Senators oppose lock usage fee

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., have reiterated their opposition to a proposed lock usage fee sought by the Obama Administration to raise revenue for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

The Mississippi senators are among a bipartisan group of 20 senators who object to the proposed fee and who issued letters to the leadership of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asking them not to move forward with legislation to implement the lock usage fee.

“There is a clear recognition that the Inland Waterways Trust Fund cannot keep up with the demands placed on it. The lock usage fee, which Congress has rejected in the past, is not a fair or efficient tool for fixing the financial problems facing the Trust Fund,” said Cochran. “I think the Congress should work to find a more suitable solution that will keep the Trust Fund solvent and enable the Army Corps of Engineers to address the backlog of improvement projects on our waterways.”

In their correspondence, the lawmakers asked the committees to allow them to continue their work with the Army Corps of Engineers, Inland Waterways User Board and others to develop specific alternatives to address the pending Trust Fund shortfall and to improve the efficiency of Army Corps of Engineers projects on inland and intracoastal waterways.

The proposed lock usage fee would replace an existing diesel fuel tax (20-cents a gallon) as the primary revenue-generating mechanism for the Trust Fund. These funds are used to meet the required 50 percent nonfederal cost-share requirement for constructing, replacing, expanding or rehabilitating Army Corps waterways projects.

In Mississippi, the Trust Fund has previously been used to support works on the Mississippi River system, including the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Cochran is now a member of a conference committee that will reconcile differences between the House and Senate on the FY2010 Energy and Water Development Act (HR.3183/S.1436). The Senate bill recommended $5.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program. The Senate legislation also includes report language that prohibits the Army Corps from entering into any new continuing contacts for inland waterway projects until Congress adopts a plan to ensure the fiscal viability of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

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