BrownWater News, May 2014

Obama’s budget ‘shortchanges’ water transport system

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, lashed out at the administration for submitting a proposed budget that “shortchanges” America’s water transportation system.

In an opening statement at a hearing last month on the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers, Gibbs said that while reducing the Corps’ funding to $4.5 billion, President Obama offers Congress a budget that has an “ecosystem restoration construction budget that is three times larger than its coastal navigation construction budget.”

Noting that the president asked for $915 million out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund while collecting an estimated $1.6 billion in FY 2014, Gibbs said he finds it “irresponsible for any administration, or for Congress itself, to not fully spend the tax dollars collected for their intended purpose.”

“I know we need to find savings, but savings could be found by slowing down work on some environmental restoration projects until the economy turns around,” Gibbs added. Criticizing Obama’s budget priorities, Gibbs said the largest coastal navigation construction expenditure is less than $35 million while the three largest ecosystem project construction expenditures proposed by the president are for $70 million, $65.5 million and almost $50 million.

U.S. looks to expand its right over ‘navigable waters’

The Obama administration came under new criticism this month over a proposal that Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said “could lengthen the already long arm of federal agencies into the affairs of practically every U.S. business, farmer, landowner and local and state government.”

In a recent op-ed, Shuster said the intent of the proposal is to “clarify” which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.

“In reality, this action is another attempt by this imperial presidency to circumvent congressional intent in order to dramatically expand federal jurisdiction over waters and wet areas in the United States and break down the well-established limits to the federal government’s power over the American people,” Shuster added.

Under the Clean Water Act, Shuster said, the federal government’s authority is limited to “navigable waters” but now the administration wants to expand its authority to new areas, such as small ponds, creeks and other water found on private property.

Shuster said he would be holding oversight hearings to examine the administration’s and the Environmental Protection Agency’s “overreach” on this issue.

In a letter to President Obama last month, Shuster and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, wrote that the president’s action was “yet another example of a disturbing pattern of an imperial presidency that seeks to use brute force and executive action while ignoring Congress.”

The proposal, offered by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency for public comment by July 21, would define the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act, in light of several U.S. Supreme Court cases.

The proposal would increase the clarity as to the scope of “waters of the United States” protected under the act, the Corps and EPA said. Their proposal would provide clarity to regulated entities as to whether individual water bodies are jurisdictional and discharges are subject to permitting, the two agencies added.

The National Waterways Conference said the proposed rule would expand the definition of waters considered to be “waters of the United States” that are subject to jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule, the NWC added, provides that the most seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near rivers and streams would come under the act. Waters like wetlands, ponds, and lakes that lack direct hydrologic connections to other water bodies would be covered by a case-specific analysis.

At a field hearing on federal regulation of waters April 28 in Altoona, Pa., Shuster said in an opening statement that “unilaterally broadening the scope of the Clean Water Act and the federal government’s reach into our everyday lives will have adverse effects on the economy and jobs, increase the likelihood of costly litigation, and restrict the rights landowners and local governments enjoy regarding decision-making on their own lands.”

Defeated in Congress where bipartisan opposition prevented the proposal and related bills from moving forward, Shuster said, “now the administration is trying to achieve this power expansion through a rulemaking.”

For more information on the proposed rule, contact Donna Downing of the EPA at (202) 566-2428 or Stacey Jensen of the Army Corps at (202) 761-5856.

Ports, waterways labeled ‘backbone’ of U.S. transport system

Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, was on Capitol Hill on April 30 making sure that members of Congress understand why she believes that the nation’s ports and waterways are “the backbone of our transportation system.”

Invited to participate in a bipartisan Senate roundtable discussion on the importance of freight to a 21st century transportation network, Larson told her hosts that a “truly integrated freight policy must consider all modal options, fully embracing the multiple benefits of waterborne transportation.”

Armed with a fresh list of talking points, Larson said that since freight typically moves over multiple modes, “having these modes coordinated as part of a system would seem to logically reduce the time and cost of goods movement, with associated benefits to the nation’s economy.”

Singling out the Missouri River as a “major contributor to the profitability and competitiveness of the Missouri farmer,” Larson said that earlier this spring, when there was insufficient rail capacity to move necessary fertilizer, local farmers relied on barge transportation to get the needed crop inputs, heading off potential damage to the fall harvest.

So far this spring, Larson said, one agricultural shipper has moved more than 40,000 tons along the waterway, removing more than 1,600 trucks from Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Brunswick. In last year’s navigation season, 9,000 trucks were taken off the highways.

“Barge transportation would be even more competitive if barges were not forced to light-load because of the lack of sufficient funding necessary to maintain the channel to its authorized depth and width,” Larson added.

Planned tax on U.S. cargo through Canada criticized

Canadian Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt criticized as “unwarranted” a legislative proposal to impose a tax or fee on cargo entering the United States from Canadian ports.

“This is an issue of grave concern to port authorities in our country and to the government of Canada,” Raitt said March 25 in a keynote address at the Spring Conference of the American Association of Port Authorities in Washington, D.C. “We should not be undermining our shared competitiveness by imposing new barriers and impediments to our integrated supply chain.”

Raitt said that the imposition of any new tax would have “a negative effect on trade, growth and jobs — an impact that will be felt on both sides of the border. This would be in nobody’s best interest.”

Increase in waterway user fee has wide support

The Waterways Council Inc. wrote to the Senate Finance Committee on April 28 that 82 organizations “strongly support an increase in the user fee that barge and towing companies pay into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to modernize the inland waterways system.”

In letters to Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the committee, WCI said the user fee, currently 20 cents per gallon of fuel used on the inland waterway system, “should be increased to 26 to 29 cents per gallon.”

The fee is matched by general Treasury funds and is dedicated to new construction and major rehabilitation of the inland waterways system.
For a list of the 82 organizations, contact WCI at (703) 373-2278.

Foxx unveils $302 billion highway bill

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has unveiled a long-term transportation bill for congressional consideration as the House and Senate face deadlines this summer for the Highway Trust Fund.

The proposed Grow America Act is based on the $302 billion, four-year surface transportation reauthorization plan announced by President Obama and Foxx in February.

Foxx said that without additional federal transportation investment, “deficiencies in our nation’s infrastructure will cost businesses more than $1 trillion every year in lost sales.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he was “pleased the administration proposed significant new funding to keep the country moving forward, and to also allocate resources to where our transportation system sorely needs them, such as moving freight and improving rail service.”

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the bill was a positive step in the reauthorization process.

Noting that the immediate challenge facing the bill is finding the resources to fund the proposal, Josten said the chamber “continues to believe that raising federal gasoline and diesel taxes is the simplest, most straightforward way to address the revenue problem in the near term.”

By Professional Mariner Staff