NWC head: Lawmakers, not White House, know water projects best
Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, suggested Nov. 15 that legislators, rather than the White House, are in the best position to select and authorize navigation projects.
Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on draft legislation intended to lead to a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), Larson said that the drafting of various provisions in the bill “has been hampered by the moratorium on earmarks.”
Larson said that elimination of wasteful spending is “laudable,” but deferring to the executive branch “complete decision-making as to which projects should be authorized or receive funding has resulted in the stoppage or delay of critical projects.”
Moreover, he said, the administration’s priorities “have not been established through an open, deliberative process, in contrast to the open process used by this committee in developing past WRDAs.”
Larson reiterated that “this committee” is the “appropriate forum” for making “major investment decisions” and that Congress should reconsider how this country invests in the nation’s water resources infrastructure.
New bill would modernize waterway locks, dams
The directors of Waterways Council Inc. have endorsed the American Waterworks Act proposed in late October by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Alexander said the purpose of the bill is to modernize America’s ports, locks and dams, including the Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River.
Alexander said that the proposed legislation would free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for use on high priority projects such as the Chickamauga Lock, and it would double the amount of money in the fund by increasing the fees paid by commercial users. Money in the fund would be freed by ending the requirement that Trust Fund revenue be used to pay for Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project that Alexander said “has been soaking up almost 90 percent of fund revenues.”
House endorses $17.3 billion for Coast Guard
A bill authorizing $8.6 billion for the Coast Guard this fiscal year and $8.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 was approved unanimously by the House Dec. 5.
Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill (H.R. 2838) would institute “common sense reforms for the U.S. Coast Guard, reduce regulatory burdens on small business, and uphold the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its important and diverse missions.”
The bill, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012, was passed initially by the House in November 2011. The Senate adopted a revised version of the House measure in September. The bill passed by voice vote Dec. 5 reflects a resolution of the differences between the House- and Senate-approved bills.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said the bill reverses the “irresponsible” cuts to the Coast Guard by the administration. “The president proposed to slash the service’s acquisition budget by nearly 20 percent, reduce the number of service members by over 1,000, close seasonal air facilities, and take recently upgraded helicopters out of service,” LoBiondo added.
Barge, towboat operators fear ‘economic catastrophe’
The American Waterways Operators (AWO), the National Waterways Conference (NWC) and Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) joined 15 other national organizations in a letter asking the administration for help “in averting an economic catastrophe in the heartland of the United States.”
The letter addressed to President Obama and William Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), asked for a “presidential declaration of emergency.” The letter stressed that waterborne commerce on the middle Mississippi River will be “severely impaired as early as mid-December unless the administration takes emergency action to ensure that water levels do not fall below the level needed to support commercial navigation.
“The crisis was created by this year’s near-historic drought conditions and will come to a head now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun to implement plans to reduce the release of water to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River.
“The Corps has also indicated that it may not take action to remove rock pinnacles near Grand Tower and Thebes, Ill. — which have become hazards to navigation given the low water levels — soon enough to avert severe impact to navigation.”
The groups warned that the economic impacts of a Mississippi River closure would be “dire, placing $7 billion in key products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products at risk in December and January alone.”
In a press release accompanying the letter, Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the AWO, said the time for action is “now, because once the water levels on the Mississippi drop, this will be an even harder problem to solve.”
Amy Larson, president of the NWC, said that immediate action can be taken “in a balanced and measured manner respecting other river interests, but it simply must be done.”
The president and CEO of WCI, Mike Toohey, said that failure to move $7 billion in key commodities “would be staggering.” Toohey saw such failure as “an economic disaster in the making” and urged the administration to “act now to stop it.”
Shippers add own pleas for help from Congress
A separate plea was made to Congress by Bruce Carlton, president of the National Industrial Transportation League.
In letters to all members of the House and Senate, Carlton urged the lawmakers to “take action in directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address navigational problems on the Mississippi River that are the result of dangerously low water levels.”
Carlton told the legislators that of “great concern” to the nation’s shippers is “the threatened inability to use this vital waterway to move manufactured goods, agricultural products, chemicals, petroleum, coal and other cargoes.”
Carlton urged the lawmakers to direct the Corps to suspend its planned stoppage of water flows from dams on the upper Missouri River. Without this action, commercial freight on the Mississippi will cease to move as early as December, thus jeopardizing the delivery of vital supplies that are critical to the nation’s economy.”
TWIC holders reminded of new contractor
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reminds holders of TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) cards that enrollment services will soon be the responsibility of a new contactor, Morpho Trust, under a Universal Enrollment Services (UES) contract. The UES contract will include enhanced mobile enrollment services, enroll your own (EYO), and bulk payment facilities.
During the transition period, the TWIC contractor, Lockheed Martin, will offer mobile enrollment and activation services to companies or entities interested in receiving on-site TWIC services and bulk payment options.
TSA also said it was working to provide systematic bulk payment and submission options for those wishing to use the EED (extended expiration date) option. TSA expects to offer that service in mid-January 2013. That service would allow an organization to complete a bulk payment and submission process for EED TWICs.
Questions about mobile enrollment should be directed to Stephen Foster of Lockheed Martin at (703) 663-5105.
Shuster succeeds Mica as transport committee chairman
The House Republican Conference has selected Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania to be the next chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the 113th Congress starting in January.
As chairman, Shuster will succeed Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), whose term was limited by his party’s rules.
Shuster has served on the committee since arriving in Congress in 2001. He has served as chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee and as chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee.
The House Democratic Caucus has elected Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia to serve again as ranking member of the transportation committee.
Rahall said he was pleased with the selection of Shuster to succeed Rep. John Mica of Florida as new chairman of the committee. Rahall commended Shuster for his “stated willingness to reach across the aisle and to leave no stone unturned as we work to restore the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.”