AWO applauds Jones Act provision, other items in new defense bill
Overriding President Trump’s veto, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Jan. 1, delivering to the domestic maritime industry one of the most significant legislative victories in many years, according to the American Waterways Operators (AWO).
The bill includes a landmark provision that affirms the application of U.S. laws, including the Jones Act, to renewable energy development — specifically wind power — on the Outer Continental Shelf.
“The legislation eliminates the uncertainty that had been created by conflicting federal agency interpretations and paves the way for significant new investment in American vessels, and jobs for American mariners, to serve the burgeoning offshore renewable energy market,” the AWO said.
The NDAA also clarifies that a Jones Act waiver for national defense must be tied to a legitimate need, establishes strict time limits on non-defense waivers, and increases transparency by requiring public reporting on any foreign vessel using a waiver to operate in U.S. domestic commerce.
Other key provisions in the bill that benefit the towing industry are the establishment of the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program and codification of requirements for harbor tugs operating beyond the U.S. Boundary Line.
“We extend our hearty thanks to the many AWO members, industry coalition partners and bipartisan champions in Congress who helped to get this important legislation over the finish line despite numerous challenges,” said AWO President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter. “We look forward to working with our partners and allies to build on this progress and deliver results that make a positive difference for the domestic maritime industry as the 117th Congress gets underway.”
Congress passes WRDA with inland waterways cost-share adjustment
As part of an omnibus appropriations and COVID-19 relief package, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 on Dec. 21, addressing key priorities for the nation’s inland waterway users. President Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 27.
At the top of the list is a cost-share adjustment for construction and major rehabilitation projects from 50 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF)/50 percent general revenues to 35 percent IWTF/65 percent general revenues for fiscal year 2021 through fiscal year 2031. Projects that begin during that period will proceed under the 35/65 cost share for their duration.
“Particularly in a difficult COVID-19 environment, the passage of WRDA is a significant achievement for efficient modernization of the inland waterways system, potentially providing more than $1 billion in additional construction funds over 10 years that should help significantly reduce the backlog of authorized projects,” the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) said in a prepared statement.
Other measures in the bill:
• Fiscal year 2021 funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is $7.8 billion, an increase of $145 million from FY 2020 and $1.8 billion above the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget.
• Funding for the investigations account is $153 million, an increase of $2 million from FY 2020’s level and $50.4 million above the administration’s request.
• The construction account received $2.69 billion, an increase of $11.6 million from FY 2020 and $519.4 million above the administration’s FY 2021 request.
• Nine new study starts and seven new construction starts have been included across the Army Corps’ Civil Works mission. For the first time since 2004, one of the new starts must be for inland waterways lock and dam modernization.
• Operations and maintenance received $3.85 billion, an increase of $59.7 million from FY 2020 and $1.8 billion above the administration’s FY 2021 budget.
“Also of note is the rejection of any additional and onerous taxes or fees on commercial operators to supplement existing revenue streams,” the WCI said.
Buzby resigns as head of MarAd, citing Capitol riot
Mark Buzby has resigned as the nation’s maritime administrator, citing the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of President Trump. Buzby’s resignation from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) was effective Monday, Jan. 11.
“I no longer believe that I am able to serve as a member of the administration while remaining true to the values which have been the core of my service to the people of our nation,” Buzby said in a brief statement.
Buzby, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, became maritime administrator in August 2017. Douglas Burnett, an admiralty lawyer who has served as MarAd’s chief counsel, has taken on the role of acting maritime administrator. Buzby’s successor will be appointed by the Biden administration.
Earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced her resignation after the events at the Capitol.
White House unveils US maritime cybersecurity plan
President Trump on Jan. 5 released the National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan, which details how the U.S. government will defend the American economy through enhanced cybersecurity coordination, policies and practices.
The federal approach is “aimed at mitigating risks to the maritime subsector, promoting prosperity through information and intelligence sharing, and preserving and increasing the nation’s cyberworkforce.”
Trump designated the cybersecurity of the Maritime Transportation System (MTS) as a top priority for national defense, homeland security, and economic competitiveness in the 2017 National Security Strategy. The MTS contributes to one quarter of U.S. gross domestic product, or approximately $5.4 trillion.
“MTS operators are increasingly reliant on information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to maximize the reliability and efficiency of maritime commerce,” the National Security Council (NSC) said in a prepared statement. “The plan articulates how the U.S. government can buy down the potential catastrophic risks to our national security and economic prosperity created by technology innovations to strengthen maritime commerce efficiency and reliability.”
The plan unifies maritime cybersecurity resources, stakeholders and initiatives to “aggressively mitigate current and near-term maritime cyberspace threats and vulnerabilities,” the NSC said. Actions described in the plan are designed to address perceived cybersecurity gaps in the next five years.