Omnibus bill includes $6 billion for Army Corps’ Civil Works
Congress approved the $1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriations bill on Dec. 18, with President Obama signing the measure into law the same day. The bill includes nearly $6 billion for the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers, almost $1.3 billion — or 27 percent — above the president’s budget request of $4.7 billion.
The bill also includes a record $405.2 million for priority navigation projects supported by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), a 75 percent increase over the administration’s request of $232 million.
Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) said the top four priority projects could now be funded in fiscal year 2016. The Olmsted Locks and Dam project is slated for $268 million, with 15 percent coming from the IWTF as required in the Water Resources Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. The Lower Mon 2, 3 and 4 projects should be funded at $60 million, Kentucky Lock should receive $48 million and Chickamauga $29 million this fiscal year.
Funding for operations and maintenance (O&M) grew 15.8 percent to $3 billion, well above the initial budget request of $2.7 billion, according to WCI. Appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging and channel maintenance hit the target at $1.25 billion, 31 percent above the president’s request of $915 million. The Corps’ General Investigations account was allocated $121 million this fiscal year, up 25 percent from Obama’s request. That allocation includes $5 million for inland navigation that WCI said is intended for the Navigation Ecosystem Sustainability Program. The bill also includes $1.86 billion for construction and authority for six new starts, five of which target navigation and flood control.
The National Waterways Conference listed a number of key provisions in the explanatory statement accompanying the bill. One provision directs the comptroller general to study the cumulative economic impact of all shallow-draft ports on the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Mo., and Baton Rouge, La., including an assessment of current freight flows on the middle and lower Mississippi River.
‘Gloomy outlook’ for dry bulk to continue this year
The Dry Bulk Forecaster, a British report published by Drewry, a global shipping consultant, said at the end of 2015 that the “gloomy outlook” for the dry-bulk shipping market is not expected change before 2017.
“Shipowners continue to struggle to recover their costs as commodity demand falls far short of owners’ expectations,” the Forecaster reported.
Drewry’s Benchmarking Club, a user group of multinational retailers and manufacturers, reported early this month that ocean freight rates for cargo moving under contracts on the major east-west trade routes saw another reduction in the last quarter of 2015. The club’s rate index declined 5 percent between August and November 2015.
New rule on ballast water reporting, recordkeeping
The Coast Guard has adopted a final rule, effective Feb. 22, that amends the service’s ballast water reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
Under provisions of the new rule, vessels with ballast tanks that operate exclusively on voyages between ports or places within a single captain of the port zone must submit an annual report of ballast water management practices. The rule also allows most vessels to submit ballast water reports after arriving at their destination instead of requiring submission of such reports prior to arrival.
Details of the final rule can be found in the Nov. 24 issue of the Federal Register. For more information, contact Regina Bergner at (202) 372-1431.
Coast Guard, FMC spending authorized through FY 2017
The U.S. House passed a bill on Dec. 10 that authorizes spending for the Coast Guard and the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) through fiscal year 2017, with the Senate giving its approval a week later.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 4188) authorizes the Coast Guard for two years and “strengthens its ability to recapitalize an aging fleet of cutters and aircraft that are decades past their prime.” Hunter said the legislation also “addresses our maritime transportation system and makes common-sense regulatory changes to strengthen this important sector of our economy.”
Proposed LNG parity act would benefit marine transport
Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced the Waterway LNG Parity Act of 2015 to ensure that excise taxes on liquefied natural gas for marine transportation on inland waterways are levied at a rate consistent with their energy output relative to diesel and gasoline, respectively.
The senators said the current system puts LNG use “at a disadvantage in inland waterways, despite being a cleaner, cheaper energy source.” Bennet said that providing parity to LNG for marine transportation “just as we recently did for cars and trucks, creates an opportunity to grow the market and encourages the use of domestically produced natural gas as a cleaner-burning transportation fuel.”
Blu LNG President James Burns, one of the prominent industry leaders supporting the legislation, said the United States is now the No. 1 producer of natural gas in the world, and American businesses and consumers “continue to take advantage of low-cost natural gas in the transportation sector.”
MarAd has $4.9 million for small shipyards
The Maritime Administration (MarAd) has announced $4.9 million in grants to help small shipyards fund improvements in “efficiency, competitive operations and quality ship construction, repair and reconfiguration.”
MarAd said that since the number of applications will far exceed the funds available, only five to 10 applications would be selected, with an average grant amount of about $1 million.
The period for submitting applications under the Small Shipyard Grant Program began on Dec. 18 with the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. MarAd must receive applications by the close of business on Feb. 16. MarAd intends to award grants by April 18.
The grants may not be used to construct buildings or other physical facilities or to acquire land, unless such use is specifically approved by MarAd as being consistent with, and supplemental to, capital and related infrastructure improvements. Grant funds can be used for maritime training programs to foster technical skills and operational productivity in communities, the economies of which are related to or dependent upon the maritime industry.
For more information, contact David M. Heller at (202) 366-5737.
House adds its opposition to Waters of the United States rule
The House voted 253-166 on Jan. 13 to sink a recent Obama administration rule that critics said gives the government sweeping new authority to regulate virtually all waters or wet areas in the United States.
The House approved Senate Joint Resolution 22 to vacate the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that expands federal regulatory power under the Clean Water Act. The resolution, approved by the Senate in November, was expected to be vetoed by the president.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the rule was “another example of the excessive regulations placed on hard-working Americans.” He said it would put almost every body of water in the United States under Environmental Protection Agency control, “placing unwarranted burdens on farmers, manufacturers and small business owners.”
Coast Guard sets 25 percent drug-testing rate for 2016
The Coast Guard has set the 2016 minimum random drug-testing rate at 25 percent of covered waterborne crewmembers. Marine employers must submit their 2015 management information system (MIS) reports no later than March 15.
The Coast Guard requires marine employers to establish random drug-testing programs for covered crewmembers on inspected and uninspected vessels. Every marine employer is required to collect and maintain a record of drug-testing program data for each calendar year, and submit the data to the Coast Guard by March 15 of the following year.
The Coast Guard said MIS data for 2015 indicates that the positive rate for drug tests is less than 1 percent industrywide (0.87 percent).
Seaway tolls to increase 2 percent this year
The Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. announced Jan. 12 that a toll rate increase of 2 percent would be imposed for the 2016 navigation season.
The corporation also announced the introduction of the Gateway Incentive Program to support the Great Lakes-Seaway System’s competitiveness. The program offers shippers a percentage reduction on tolls for shipments of a specific commodity diverted to the Seaway from a competing gateway.
Corporation administrators reported that the Seaway closed its 2015 navigation season ice-free on Dec. 31. The last vessel to exit the Montreal/Lake Ontario Section was Baie St. Paul, which exited the St. Lambert Lock on Dec. 30.
Thirty-six million metric tons of cargo transited the waterway during the season. Grain volumes posted a strong year at 10.8 million tons but still finished 2.6 million tons below 2014. Despite the drop, the Port of Thunder Bay, the principal point of entry for grain into the Great Lakes-Seaway System, reported its second-best season in 15 years.