Brownwater News, June 2015

Administration finalizes clean water rule

The Obama administration moved ahead May 27 to implement a controversial clean water rule that would broaden the federal government’s power to regulate waters and adjacent lands. Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee immediately attacked the move as “incredibly disappointing and disturbing.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, said in a joint statement that after failing to expand its regulatory power through Congress, the administration is now attempting to broaden its authority without consulting states, local governments and other stakeholders.

“Today, the administration is capping off this power grab, plowing ahead with its flawed rule despite the bipartisan, bicameral concerns of Congress, despite the long-standing federal-state partnership to regulate waters under the Clean Water Act, and despite the objections and concerns from at least 32 states and representatives of the nation’s large cities, smaller cities, counties, towns, townships, farmers, businesses, homebuilders, contractors, manufacturers and more,” the two congressmen said.

Shuster and Gibbs said that more than 1 million public comments were filed on the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. “It was even recently reported that the EPA lobbied supporters to pack the docket with favorable comments, making a mockery of the regulatory process,” the congressmen said.

Shuster and Gibbs also called attention to recent House-passed legislation (H.R. 1732) that would require the administration to withdraw the rule “and go back and propose a new rule developed in a consultative fashion with states, local governments and stakeholders — the proper process they should have followed in the first place.” The House voted 261-155 on May 12 in favor of the legislation.

Jaenichen: Waterways available for anticipated growth

Writing in “Fast Lane,” the Department of Transportation’s official blog, Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen warned that with the U.S. population expected to grow by 70 million in the next 30 years, moving goods and freight “will be a key challenge.” By 2045, Jaenichen said, “the volume of goods on our roads, rail, air and water will increase 45 percent or more.”

Pointing to the availability of the nation’s navigable waterways, Jaenichen said that continued development and investment along the country’s 22 Marine Highway Routes “will provide more choices to shippers, help alleviate road and rail congestion and accommodate future freight growth.”

Corps to deepen Mississippi River ship channel

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to prepare a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to be integrated with a general re-evaluation report (GRR) for the Mississippi River ship channel project from the Gulf of Mexico to Baton Rouge, La.

The GRR and SEIS will address deepening the channel from 45 feet to 50 feet and maintaining it at that depth. The Corps held three open houses and public meetings on the project in May.

It’s estimated that the draft SEIS will be available to the public for review and comment in December 2016. At least one hearing will be held at that time to give the public an opportunity to comment on the SEIS before it becomes final.

For more information, contact Richard Boe or Steve Roberts at (504) 862-1505 or (504) 862-2517.

Coast Guard releases first boating app

The Coast Guard released its first boating safety app on May 16 as the kickoff to this year’s National Safe Boating Week. The app was not designed to replace a boater’s marine VHF radio but to provide additional safety resources for mobile device users.

Personal information is stored on the phone and is not sent to the Coast Guard unless the user chooses to send it. The Coast Guard does not track the user’s location, and neither does the app unless it is being used.

House bill increases HMT spending

The House on May 1 passed the fiscal year 2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2028), which included two amendments.

The first amendment increased the appropriation for Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) spending by $36.3 million to reach the target of $1.25 billion set by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. The second ensures that expenditures from the Army Corps of Engineers’ operations and maintenance (O&M) account comply with WRRDA’s intent to ratchet up spending of HMT collections so that by FY 2025 all taxes collected for O&M of America’s navigation channels will be spent as authorized.

“With passage of H.R. 2028, the nation moved an important step forward in carrying out the intent of WRRDA, which is the focus of AAPA’s ‘Hit the HMT Target’ campaign,” said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities.

Coast Guard ends printed Light Lists

The Coast Guard is changing the way it makes Light Lists available to the public.

The Coast Guard said it will continue to publish electronic versions of the publications and make them available free of charge, updated weekly, through the Internet, but it will no longer produce printed Light List volumes.

Electronic-only publication of the Light Lists began Feb. 23. The detailed lists of navigational aids are a means for communicating aids to navigation (ATON) information that is available nowhere else, the Coast Guard said.

For more information, contact Frank Parker at (202) 372-1551.

Senate panels approve $5.5 billion for Corps in FY 2016

The Senate Appropriations Committee and its Energy and Water Development Subcommittee wasted little time approving a fiscal year 2016 spending bill that included $5.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., cleared the funding measure May 19, paving the way for the legislation to be considered and approved on May 21 by the full committee chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

The $5.5 billion for the Corps’ civil works program is $45 million more than the amount approved for this fiscal year and $768 million more than President Obama’s budget request.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for navigation projects and studies, including $1.3 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund; full use of estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund; and $1.4 billion to support flood and storm damage reduction activities, including $310 million for the most critical dam safety improvements.

House authorizes $8.7 billion for Coast Guard in 2016-17

The House voted May 18 to authorize the Coast Guard to spend $8.7 billion in each of the fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

A review of the approved Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1987) clarifies that authorized funds may be used to construct an icebreaker capable of buoy tending on the Great Lakes. The legislation also requires the Coast Guard to alleviate administrative burdens and lost productivity by harmonizing the expiration of merchant mariner credentials, radar observer endorsements and medical certificates for certain mariners.

In addition, the bill strengthens the enforcement of current law that requires cargo financed by the federal government to be shipped on U.S.-flag vessels. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to recover the costs it incurs from the enforcement of safety zones around privately held events, such as fireworks displays.

One section of the bill requires the Coast Guard to develop a certificate of documentation (COD) for recreational vessels that is effective for five years. Another section requires the Coast Guard to complete its Atlantic Coast Port Access Route Study by April 2016.

The bill also orders the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to stop spending taxpayer dollars on “superfluous awards for non-federal entities.” The prohibition was issued after legislators noted that the FMC chairman had been spending staff time and taxpayer resources to recognize private companies with Earth Day awards. “The FMC has no statutory or regulatory authority over environmental protection or restoration,” the legislation explained.

More time to comment on seafarer access

The Coast Guard has reopened the public comment period for a proposal dealing with seafarers’ access to maritime facilities.

In a notice published in December, the Coast Guard proposed to require each owner or operator of a facility regulated by the Coast Guard to implement a system that provides seafarers and other individuals with access between vessels moored at the facility and the facility gate in a timely manner and at no cost.

At the request of several members of the public, the Coast Guard reopened the comment period for 60 days, extending it to July 27.

For more information, contact Lt. Cmdr. Kevin McDonald at (202) 372-1168. 

By Professional Mariner Staff