Lawmakers aim to revitalize cargo fleet under new maritime strategy
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., disclosed Jan. 14 that his House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee is busy working on new legislative proposals aimed at revitalizing the U.S. merchant fleet under a new national maritime strategy.
Speaking at the opening session of the Maritime Administration’s first National Maritime Strategy Symposium in Washington, the chairman said his subcommittee is preparing legislation to help the U.S. cargo fleet regain control of the ocean trade lanes that this nation began losing in the 1980s.
“We’re going to get our hands around this business and learn what to do to make it better and protect American industry,” Hunter said. “We are going to reverse that trend. We will give the Maritime Administration the teeth to enforce our shipping laws.”
The congressman said a goal is to encourage MarAd to develop a maritime strategy. He said government agencies that appear to look the other way rather than applying provisions of the Jones Act deserve more than just “a slap on the wrist.”
Among other leadoff speakers were Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Paul Jaenichen, whose elevation from acting maritime administrator to maritime administrator was approved the day before by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Foxx, who said there was a need for a maritime strategy, pointed out that more than 75 percent of all U.S. trade is transported by water, “making maritime trade a critical part of our country’s economy. We must strengthen America’s ability to move products on the oceans, lakes, rivers and waterways, and chart a sustainable future course for the U.S. maritime industry.”
On another subject, Foxx announced that with the Highway Trust Fund set to run out of money as early as August, his department will begin posting monthly on its website exactly how much is left in the fund. Foxx said that while DOT has long provided that information to Capitol Hill, “providing it to the public would increase transparency and accountability.”
Proposing what he said was the first national transportation plan in more than 70 years, Foxx encouraged representatives from the various modes of transportation to “work together in a reflection of how travelers use the (transportation) system, rather than acting as individual silos.”
“We need a plan that takes our roads and rails and ports and links them together,” Foxx said. “Linking them together remakes the finest, most elaborate system of transportation that the world has ever known into its 21st-century incarnation.”
Jaenichen said the symposium was the “first step in a year-long effort to develop a structured, systematic and interconnected strategy that will strengthen and expand our nation’s maritime transportation system. We have come together to lay the foundation for a truly robust national maritime strategy — one that encompasses all aspects of our industry.”
Another panelist, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of Hunter’s subcommittee, said Foxx would be held to his commitment. Garamendi said the symposium would be “a major factor in the development of a maritime policy. There is no coherent policy now. You must stop fighting … and recognize that the real enemy here is the lack of a coherent policy.”
Obama OKs $5.5 billion for Corps of Engineers
The Senate put its final stamp of approval on a major spending bill Jan. 16 and sent it to the White House, where President Obama signed the legislation the following day. The bill, H.R. 3547, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, provides $1.1 trillion to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year through Sept. 30.
The bill includes $5.5 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an increase of $487 million over FY 2013. All of the Corps’ accounts will receive more money than they did in the past fiscal year.
For operations and maintenance (O&M) this fiscal year, the Corps will receive $2.9 billion, and for construction it will receive $1.7 billion. Corps investigations will be funded with $125 million, Mississippi River and tributaries $307 million, and regulatory and flood control $28 million.
The National Waterways Conference (NWC) noted in its breakdown of the legislation that more than $1 billion for the Corps would be funded through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, “a step toward full expenditure from this fund for its intended purposes, maintenance of the nation’s ports and harbors.”
The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) said the $1 billion is “a healthy increase from recent levels” of funding through the trust fund. WCI said that “only about half” of the $1.5 billion in annual harbor tax money had been spent for dredging and seaport projects.
The NWC said that additional O&M funding is provided across the board for the Corps’ navigation program, including $40 million for small ports and harbors and $42 million for inland waterways. The bill also stipulates that 25 percent of funding for the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project should come from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
The bill allows four construction starts: three navigation or flood and storm-damage reduction projects and one environmental restoration project. The Corps will make the final decision about which projects will be funded in its annual work plan.
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) was elated to find that the spending bill included several “high priority programs crucial to the safe, efficient and competitive operation of American seaports.”
The programs included in the funding, AAPA noted, are the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants, the Corps of Engineers’ navigation-related programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants that include dedicated funds for port security, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, and several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration subprograms that aid navigation.
“While AAPA continues to advocate for full utilization of Harbor Maintenance Tax collections — which last year netted about $1.8 billion in revenue — as well as more equity for donors, the increased funding in this bill is an important step toward full use of those revenues, particularly in these constrained fiscal times,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO. “Maintaining our federal navigation channels to their authorized and required dimensions helps make U.S. exports more internationally competitive and is critical for safe access in and out of America’s seaports.”
Waterways, ports win spot in State of the Union address
America’s waterways and ports industries were encouraged the night of Jan. 28 when President Obama gave them a plug in the first quarter of his fifth State of the Union address.
First he invited Democrats and Republicans to close “wasteful, complicated loopholes” in the tax code, and to “end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.” Then the president said, “Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”
Michael J. Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc., praised Obama for urging Congress to pass a Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) this year, and for “connecting the nation’s waterways to jobs in the State of the Union address.”
Modernizing the nation’s waterways transportation system in a way that is “fair and equitable to our manufacturers, farmers and shippers will result in the creation and sustainment of American jobs, increased exports and billions of dollars injected into a still-lagging U.S. economy,” Toohey said. “Failure to invest in the waterways and transportation infrastructure will risk America’s competitive advantage in world marketplaces.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, she agreed with the president that Congress must protect jobs by passing bills “that invest in our nation’s water resources and transportation infrastructure this year.”
Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, noted that it was the second year in a row that Obama “specifically referenced ports in his annual report to the nation.”
U.S. maritime academies benefit from obsolete-vessel program
The Maritime Administration has announced that America’s six state maritime academies and the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., will each receive $1 million from a government program that recycles obsolete vessels.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the funding will help ensure that “dedicated men and women of our maritime academies continue to have the resources that make them the best-educated and most highly trained mariners anywhere.”
The state academies receiving the funds are the California Maritime Academy, Great Lakes Maritime Academy, Maine Maritime Academy, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, SUNY Maritime College and the Texas Maritime Academy.
By law, 25 percent of the profit from the sale of obsolete vessels goes to the academies and 25 percent goes to the National Park Service, which provides grants for maritime heritage activities. Fifty percent funds the acquisition of vessels in the National Defense Reserve Fleet.