The following is the text of a news release from the American Great Lakes Ports Association (AGLPA):
(WASHINGTON) — On Tuesday, the White House unveiled its $4.1 trillion fiscal year 2018 budget proposal which details spending for every agency of the federal government. The plan arrives on Capitol Hill several months late due to the change of administrations. This will delay the annual congressional budgeting and appropriations process and make it all the more difficult to conclude work by the beginning of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Many of the budgetary and policy proposals outlined Tuesday had been leaked last March when the administration released its so-called "skinny budget," which outlined coming spending increases and cuts.
A number of programs of interest to AGLPA ports took a hit in the budget. For example, the Trump administration is proposing complete elimination of the U.S. Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program. Several Great Lakes ports have been successful in securing TIGER grants to enhance port infrastructure. As expected, funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was also eliminated as were most regional EPA programs.
The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. received $28.35 million in the budget plan. This includes $18.85 million for agency operating expenses, plus an additional $9.5 million for the Seaway's Asset Renewal Program (ARP). ARP funds are being used to modernize SLSDC infrastructure, such as installation of hands free mooring in lock chambers, dredging, and acquisition of new tugs. The Seaway's $28.35 million budget allocation is the same as the agency received in FY 2016. However, it is a drop from the $36 million the agency received last year.
CVIDA approved by Senate Commerce
For the second time this year, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA). On May 18, the committee approved the measure and attached it to legislation reauthorizing programs of the U.S. Coast Guard. Earlier this year CVIDA was approved by the committee as a free-standing measure. CVIDA will consolidate authority over ballast water and other vessel discharges and vest that authority in the U.S. Coast Guard. Currently, two federal agencies and 25 states regulate vessel discharges. The resulting chaotic patchwork of regulations threatens the viability of maritime commerce. For example, seven of the eight Great Lakes states have their own ballast water regulations. Some are harmonized with neighboring states, some are not.
AGLPA supports enactment of CVIDA and has lobbied Congress in support of the legislation. The Coast Guard legislation will now await consideration by the full Senate.
Senators block HMTF raid
On May 17, a group of Great Lakes senators blocked an amendment to the Coast Guard authorization bill which would have authorized the first "expanded use" of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) since it was created in 1986. A provision authored by the committee staff would have allowed HMTF dollars to be used to support certain Coast Guard activities. Currently, HMTF dollars are exclusively reserved for the Corps of Engineers' operation and maintenance program, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and a small amount for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
AGLPA opposes authorizing new uses for HMTF dollars until such time that all originally authorized uses are fully funded. This means that there should be no diversions from the trust fund until such time as the nation's harbors are fully dredged to constructed dimensions. While the amount being proposed for the Coast Guard was small, the precedent would have invited future mischief and additional attempts to raid the HMTF. Many thanks go to Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Todd Young, R-Ind., for their advocacy on this issue.