WINN Act funds Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The following is the text of a news release from the American Great Lakes Ports Association:

(WASHINGTON) — Over the weekend, Congress completed its work for the year. Before adjourning, both the House and Senate approved water resource legislation known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN. This bill reauthorizes programs of the Army Corps of Engineers. The legislation includes a number of provisions of particular interest to the Great Lakes region:

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The WIIN Act includes language authorizing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $300 million a year for the next five years. Launched in 2010, GLRI was created to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. GLRI seeks to replace earlier piecemeal approaches to ecosystem restoration with a single, comprehensive program. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the restoration initiative and partners with multiple federal agencies to carry out restoration projects. These projects include several that benefit the maritime industry. Since 2010, Congress has appropriated $2.2 billion for GLRI. As the Obama administration comes to an end, Great Lakes legislators sought to enact a permanent authorization for the program. It is hoped that such an authorization will ensure the program's longevity.

Harbor maintenance spending targets

Since the harbor maintenance tax (HMT) was enacted in 1986, the navigation community has been critical of Congress' unwillingness to fully appropriate revenue being collected. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) established annual spending targets for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The annual targets are a percentage of the previous year's harbor maintenance tax revenue. Each year the percentage increases until (after 10 years) full use of the tax is achieved in 2025. While these targets are non-binding, congressional appropriators have generally been following them. There is strong support in both the House and Senate to adhere to the targets. Language was included in the WIIN Act to "fine-tune" the targets to establish a "floor." This was necessary because HMT revenue decreased for the first time last year. Without this fix, the targets could result in less harbor maintenance spending in future years.

Great Lakes Navigation System guidance

WRRDA 2014 directs the Corps of Engineers to manage the Great Lakes Navigation System as a single system. Navigation interests pursued this language to move the agency away from a "port-by-port" planning perspective and to promote a "system" planning perspective. In reality, the Great Lakes are less like individual coastal ports and more like the Mississippi River system. Unfortunately, the agency has not taken any action to implement this requirement, nor has it issued any policy guidance. The WIIN Act directs the Corps of Engineers to issue implementation guidance within 90 days of enactment.

Great Lakes Navigation System funding

WRRDA 2014 directs the Corps of Engineers to use 10 percent of all HMTF appropriations above FY 2012 levels (~ $890 million)  for projects within the Great Lakes Navigation System. This provision was to expire after 2024. The WIIN Act makes this provision permanent. Great Lakes navigation interests had lobbied to apply this 10 percent requirement to all HMTF appropriations. While we were unsuccessful, this should remain a goal for future water resource legislation. A true 10 percent set aside for the Great Lakes coupled with eventual full use of the HMT, should result in robust harbor maintenance funding for the Great Lakes.

VIDA will have to wait

After heroic efforts by a broad coalition of industry and labor, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) ultimately did not make it through the 114th Congress. VIDA would have simplified ballast water and other vessel discharge regulations by consolidating oversight in the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, two federal agencies and 25 states regulate vessel discharges. The resulting regulatory chaos threatens the viability of interstate and international maritime commerce. VIDA had been included in the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It was not included in the Senate version. Ultimately, House and Senate negotiators decided not to include it in the final version of the defense bill. A second effort was made to include VIDA in the "continuing resolution," legislation to keep the government funded through the end of April. Regretfully, this effort was unsuccessful. There is now a huge coalition of maritime, business and labor organizations working to enact VIDA. Indeed, there is strong support for VIDA in Congress and with congressional leadership. We will work with our coalition partners to enact the bill next year.

By Professional Mariner Staff