Obama unveils details of $3.4 trillion budget proposal

Obama unveils details of $3.4 trillion budget proposal

Details of President Obama’s $3.4 trillion budget proposals for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 finally made it to Capitol Hill May 7, along with the president’s plan to cut $17 billion from 121 government programs, a plan that quickly drew heavy opposition from members of his own party.

Agencies singled out for some of the program cuts included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $245 million; the Department of Transportation, $202 million and the Department of Homeland Security, $90 million.

For fiscal year 2010, the administration requested $5.1 billion for the Corps’ civil works program, down from $5.4 billion approved for this fiscal year. Details show $1.7 billion for construction, down from $2 billion this year. The administration would allocate funds from low-performing construction projects to projects that have a substantial positive economic and/or environmental return.

The Corps budget also proposes the adoption of an alternative funding source to replace the current fuel tax, but does not provide a specific proposal, beyond the earlier proposal to implement a lock usage fee.

Corps operations and maintenance would be allocated $2.5 billion, up from $2.2 billion this year. The budget proposal also calls for $1.1 billion for channel and harbor maintenance; $580 million for locks and dams maintenance and $43 million for channel improvements.

For the Department of Homeland Security, the administration proposed $55.1 billion, including $9.95 billion for the U.S. Coast Guard and $7.8 billion for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The proposed Coast Guard budget includes $1.2 billion for aids to navigation, $1.9 billion for ports, waterways and coastal security, and $1.3 billion for drug interdiction. The proposed FY 2010 budget for TSA included $128 million for surface transportation security, $1 billion for transportation security support and $192 million for transportation threat assessment and credentialing.

The budget proposal for the Maritime Administration was $346 million, down from $434 million approved for this fiscal year. For the Maritime Security Program in FY 2010, the administration requested $174 million, the same amount that was approved for this fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Expressing disappointment over the administration’s proposed FY 2010 budget was Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities. Nagle said the spending proposal would “significantly underfund the Port Security Grant Program and the portion of the Corps’ civil works program that includes crucial deep-draft maintenance dredging for seaports.â€

Nagle said the grant program would receive $250 million in congressional appropriations, $40 million more than this year’s request, but well under the $400 million authorized by Congress in the 2006 Security and Authority For Every (SAFE) Port Act, and approved by Congress for this fiscal year.

Nagle also was disappointed with the administration’s fiscal 2010 budget request for money to maintain the nation’s federal navigation channels. He said that while the administration’s $793 million civil works program request is higher than the $729 million requested last year, between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is needed just to maintain federal navigation channels at their required depths and widths.

Foss hybrid tug welcomed in California

Numerous leaders from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and Foss Maritime welcomed what was described as the world’s first true hybrid tug to southern California earlier this year.

At an unveiling ceremony for the Foss hybrid assist tug Carolyn Dorothy, Foss presented special awards of recognition to the two ports and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to thank them for their support of the development of the “green†tug.

“The hybrid tug is the culmination of a concept that began at Foss and succeeded because our commitment to the environment is rooted deeply in our culture,†said Gary Faber, Foss president and COO.

The tug is expected to significantly reduce emissions compared with the operating duty cycle of the conventional Dolphin class tugs in San Pedro Harbor, including a reduction in nitrogen oxide, particulate emissions, sulfur dioxide and carbon emissions. 

Moran Charleston switches to cleaner fuels for tugs

Moran Charleston, a tugboat operator in Charleston, S.C., is switching half its fleet to cleaner-burning fuels in a continuation of the Charleston maritime community’s “Pledge for Growth†environmental commitment.

The fuel switch was made possible through grant funding by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The funding covers 75 percent of the additional cost of buying the cleaner fuel, which ranges from 10 to 22 cents more per gallon than regular diesel.

Moran Charleston, which provides ship docking and harbor towing services to vessels using the Port of Charleston, will upgrade the 6,140-hp Elizabeth Turecamo to ultra-low sulfur diesel years ahead of a federal mandate. The 3,000-hp Cape May will use a biodiesel blend. Switching the two tugs will reduce particulate matter emissions by 9 to 10 percent, Moran said.

Lawmakers look for solutions to piracy problem

Capt. Richard Phillips, whose containership Maersk Alabama was attacked by pirates in April off the coast of Somalia, told lawmakers May 5 that “the most appropriate response to piracy is for the United States government to provide protection, through military escorts and/or military detachments aboard U.S. vessels.â€

However, recognizing that there is a limit to the government’s resources, Phillips suggested that there may be other steps that could be taken against piracy.

Testifying at a piracy hearing held by the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, Phillips said ships can be “hardened†— the use of fire hoses is one way — to make them better able to resist pirates. The captain also said the idea of armed security details “could be developed into an effective deterrent,†but that his preference would be “government protection forces.â€

As for suggestions that ship crews be armed, Phillips said that should not be viewed as “the final and only solution†to piracy. While having weapons on board merchant ships “changes the model of commercial shipping,†Phillips said, “I do believe that arming the crew, as part of an overall strategy, could provide an effective deterrent under certain circumstances.â€

Also testifying at the hearing was Michael A. Perry, chief engineer aboard the containership when it was attacked. Echoing Phillips’ testimony, Perry said it was “the obligation of the American government to protect the vessels that fly the U.S. flag, carry U.S. mariners, and transport U.S. cargo. Military escorts or detachments should be implemented as part of a comprehensive international plan to combat piracy.â€

Suggestions that U.S.-flag ship owners have not done enough to protect their vessels are “flat wrong,†said another witness, Philip J. Shapiro, president and CEO of Liberty Maritime Corp., whose Liberty Sun was fired on by pirates a week after Maersk Alabama was attacked.

“Our company adopted every measure recommended by international organizations and required by the U.S. Coast Guard’s approved security plan for making the vessel a difficult piracy target and more.â€

Turning to the question of allowing weapons aboard commercial ships to deter pirates, a response to piracy which Liberty Maritime did not favor before the Maersk Alabama attack, Shapiro said U.S.-flag companies have renewed their focus on the issue of firearms and the use of specially trained security personnel. However, he said there are prohibitions against armaments aboard ships in U.S. and foreign laws. For example, Singapore bars weapons aboard vessels.

Concluding, Shapiro asked Congress to consider “clearing the obstacles that block shipowners from arming our vessels in self-defense to protect our crews when it is appropriate.â€

In a statement issued April 20, Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, assured the American public that the U.S. government “is working hard to find an enduring international solution†to international piracy.

Tank barge operator elected new chairman of AWO

Members of the American Waterways Operators (AWO) have elected Timothy J. Casey as chairman and George Foster as vice chairman of the national trade association. Casey, president and CEO of K-Sea Transportation Corp., of East Brunswick, N.J., the largest coastwise tank barge operator in the United States, served as vice chairman of AWO for the past year. Foster is president of JB Marine Service Inc., in St. Louis.

Federal Maritime Commissioner to leave June 30

Federal Maritime Commissioner Harold J. Creel Jr. has announced that he will be leaving the agency at the end of his term on June 30 to join the government relations firm of Alcalde & Fay in Arlington, Va.

Creel was first nominated by President Clinton in 1994, and was re-nominated by Clinton and President Bush. He served as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) from 1996 to 2002, the longest time any FMC commissioner has served as chairman.

Creel’s departure will leave the five-member commission with only two members — Rebecca F. Dye, whose term will expire in 2010, and Joseph E. Brennan, whose term expired in 2008, but is staying on until his position is filled. 

Coast Guard weighs higher pilotage rates on Great Lakes

The maritime industry has been notified that the Coast Guard is considering a rule that would increase Great Lakes pilotage rates this year.

The proposed rule, which would become effective Aug. 1, would increases the rates by 9.41 percent. The proposed rule would reflect an increase in benchmark contractual wages and benefits, as well as an increase in the ratio of pilots to bridge hours.

For more information, contact Woo S. Kim, program analyst. Great Lakes Pilotage Branch at (202) 372-1538.

About the Author:

Carlo Salzano has been in journalism since graduating from La Salle University in 1948 as a chemistry major. That’s right, chemistry. He began his career as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving on to United Press International in Philadelphia, Charleston, West Virgina, Baltimore and Washington. After 14 years, Carlo joined Traffic World magazine and stayed on for 23 years, before retiring as editor in 1990. A majority of Carlo’s time at Traffic World was spent covering the maritime community and he continued on in the maritime field while freelancing throughout his “retirement.” He is married and has three children and eight grandchildren.

Questions for Carlo? editors@profressionstg.wpengine.com

By Professional Mariner Staff