New water resources development bill introduced in House
Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have introduced a new water resources reform bill that emphasizes an absence of earmarks, a streamlined project delivery process, fiscal responsibility and deauthorization of inactive projects totaling $12 billion.
The bill, H.R. 3080, was introduced Sept. 11 just before the start of a news conference led by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the committee; Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., ranking member of the committee; Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee; and Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., ranking member of the subcommittee.
Shuster said the bill, the Water Resources and Reform Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA), is “the most policy- and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades.”
Rahall said the bill was “about jobs. It boosts our ports, strengthens our maritime economy and allows commodities to move more efficiently along our inland waterways, saving time and money.”
Attacking the long project delivery times, Gibbs said the Army Corps of Engineers has been “literally studying infrastructure projects to death.” The bill, said Gibbs, “cuts the red tape, streamlines reviews, and accelerates the lengthy process, saving us precious time and money and allowing infrastructure improvements to move forward.”
Bishop commented that investments in America’s water infrastructure “create jobs and lay the foundation for sustained economic growth in a global economy.”
Among other things, the bill sets target expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), increasing each year so that in fiscal year 2020 and beyond, no less than 80 percent of the funds collected will go to operation and maintenance activities.
In the case of the Olmsted Lock and Dam project, which has been eating money out of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) at a cost share of 50-50, the new legislation reduces the IWTF’s support for the project to 25 percent. Sponsors of the bill said the change frees funding to support additional priorities and reduces the backlog of inland waterways projects without placing the full burden of the Olmsted project on the federal government.
Bill sponsors stressed that the legislation reflects a focus on how the Corps’ approach to business might be reformed. Shuster and his committee are particularly interested in reforming the Corps’ seemingly endless studies that many times stretched for years.
Rep. Charles W. Boustany, R-La., offering his support for the bill, applauded Shuster for “continuing to make strides against the blatant misuse of taxpayer funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. I remain committed to making sure money collected for waterway maintenance is allocated for that specific purpose.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, reminded the industry that the Senate passed a companion bill (S. 601) earlier this year, before House leaders worked together to develop the new bipartisan legislation. “I urge the House to move quickly so that we can reconcile the House and Senate approaches and get a water resources development bill to the president’s desk,” Boxer said.
Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, reported in her Sept. 9 “News Alert” that Shuster intended to mark up WRRDA on Sept. 19. The House is expected to vote on it Oct. 8.
House panel eyes impact of rules on maritime industry
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) made a strong pitch Sept. 10 for the adoption of U.S. Coast Guard regulations on towing vessel inspections, also known as Subchapter M.
Noting that Congress directed the Coast Guard to undertake that effort more than nine years ago, Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the AWO, testified that “we need to get the towing vessel inspection rule done, and done right, right away to advance our shared goals of improving safety, security and environmental stewardship.”
Allegretti testified at the first part of a two-part hearing called by the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee to review the status and ramifications of recent or proposed regulations on the maritime industry. The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said the second part would be scheduled in October. The first part focused on safety and commercial regulations; the second will focus on environmental regulations.
Allegretti said there has been continuous improvement in towing vessel safety in the past 20 years but that “the missing link” is publication of the inspection rule that will raise industry safety standards.
Allegretti acknowledged that the federal rulemaking process does take time, but said the industry is “very frustrated that this congressionally mandated rulemaking has taken so long” and that there is “no clear end in sight.”
Acting Maritime Administrator Paul N. Jaenichen testified that MarAd’s future regulations could include efforts to improve Marine Transportation System infrastructure and increase the carriage of cargo. Jaenichen said that MarAd is drafting a proposal relating to the America’s Marine Highway (AMH) program.
“While the original AMH program made eligible only those corridors and projects that would reduce landside congestion, recent statutory changes authorized the inclusion of projects that ‘promote short-sea transportation’ generally,” Jaenichen said. “MarAd plans to incorporate the statutory change into its regulations.”
Rear Adm. Richard G. Gurnon, president of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, complained of “an ever-increasing layered set of requirements and policy” since the late 1990s, when the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) was implemented.
“Since the Coast Guard began implementing STCW, the academies have had to make significant changes to their curricula and now assess each individual student in numerous practical assessment or demonstrations of skill,” Gurnon said. “This requires an enormous amount of time for our faculty to satisfy checklist-type requirements for each student, as well as the time and cost to maintain records of their assessments and training.”
Seaway welcomes new U.S. administrator
Former Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, was sworn in Aug. 13 as the 10th administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.
Sutton, sworn in by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, was a member of the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2012, serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and as co-chairman of the Congressional Jobs Task Force.
A graduate of Kent State University and the University of Akron School of Law, Sutton succeeds Deputy Administrator Craig Middlebrook, who had been serving as acting administrator of the corporation since May 2012.
New pilotage rates planned for Great Lakes
The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed rate adjustments establishing new base rates for pilotage services on the Great Lakes.
The adjustments would match the rate increase of the Canadian Lakes Pilotage Authority, the Coast Guard said. “We also propose adjusting weighting factors used to determine rates for vessels of different size, providing a procedure for temporary surcharges, and including dues paid to the American Pilots Association,” it said.
Comments on the proposals, published Aug. 8 in the Federal Register, must be submitted by Oct. 7. For more information, contact Todd Haviland at (202) 372-2037.