Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Washington Waves: December 18, 2017

Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated proposal on infrastructure generated renewed interest following a meeting at the White House with influential House Chairman Bill Shuster and several others expected to play major roles in that effort.

“The president had a productive meeting with Rep. Shuster, during which they discussed the president’s bold plan for rebuilding America’s infrastructure, which has fallen into an unacceptable condition due to decades of misguided policies,” the White House statement read.

“He looks forward to working with Rep. Shuster and his colleagues in Congress to turn this vision into legislation next year.”

According to the White House, the two men were joined at the meeting by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn.

In his written statement, Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, described the session as a “very positive step forward as we begin to work toward improving America’s infrastructure.”

“I look forward to working with the president, the administration, and my congressional colleagues as we move into the new year to identify specific proposals and priorities.”

Shuster expressed appreciation for Trump’s strong leadership on an issue that is critical to improving the economy and creating jobs.

It was unclear exactly how much significance to place on the development.

Despite expectations that a major infrastructure proposal, with a price tag of up to a trillion dollars, would be part of the early agenda of the new administration, the issue eventually slid off the 2017 calendar and now is expected to be taken up in 2018.

Just how quickly it could be taken up in the new year may depend on which issues make it into a year-end spending agreement and which ones don’t.

Several of those come with specific deadlines.

Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council, Inc., said her organization remains anxious to learn the details of an infrastructure initiative.

“The inland waterways’ locks and dams are among the nation’s critical infrastructure, as noted by the president in his June 7 visit to the Ohio River,” Calhoun said.

“We are hopeful that work can begin in earnest to develop a package in the administration and Congress that will modernize the inland waterways to maintain America’s competitiveness.”

WOTUS Testimony

Administrator Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency used his testimony before a key House subcommittee to reveal a specific timeframe on when to expect a proposed rule on his agency’s effort on the controversial Waters of the United States regulation.

“We should have a proposed rule by April of next year,” Pruitt told the House Subcommittee on the Environment.

“We are taking significant comment on that along with the withdrawal of the 2015 rule.”

An EPA spokesperson confirmed Pruitt’s comment was his first to include such a timeframe for the months-long effort.

In what was clearly a friendly exchange with Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Pruitt was given a chance once again to respond to critics who suggest he has decided the outcome and is now just looking for justifications for his action.

“That’s sort of the claim that we keep hearing. I’d love to give you a chance to respond to that,” Hudson said.

Pruitt said the Obama administration’s stated goal in putting the 2015 rule in place was to provide clarity, specifically on where federal regulations begin and end.

“They failed miserably,” he said, prompting a quick “I agree” from Hudson.

Pruitt went on to say his EPA was obligated to provide a definition as well as that missing clarity on federal regulation.

“It’s not deregulation in the truest sense,” he said.

Hudson also dismissed other claims from critics that the 2015 regulation must be retained to protect the nation’s drinking water resources, saying the Safe Drinking Water Act already includes such protections.

“Absolutely,” Pruitt responded.

Pruitt’s appearance was described as his first oversight hearing since being sworn in roughly 10 months ago.

He already is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on January 31.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) announced that session in November and spoke of the importance of having Pruitt give senators the chance to hear about his agency’s work to protect the nation’s air, land and water.

Tax Package

The American Association of Port Authorities kept up its push on several issues important to its members as conferees moved toward a final agreement on a sweeping tax package Republicans want to get to the president’s desk by Christmas.

AAPA’s goals included rescinding provisions on the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds and wind energy production tax credits.

 If a final compromise is reached on the two versions that came out of the House and Senate earlier, legislative leaders hope to schedule floor votes in both chambers on that package the week of December 18.

James Nomination Advances

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advanced a nomination for the top civilian position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Approved by a voice vote, the nomination of R.D. James of Missouri to be assistant secretary of the Amy for Civil Works now moves to the full Senate.

It was advanced, again on a voice vote, by the Senate Armed Services Committee in November.

NTSB Reauthorization

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill reauthorizing the National Transportation Safety Board to modernize and improve transparency in the NTSB’s investigations, recommendations and board member discussions.

“After tragic accidents, we ask NTSB to get facts and tell us what went wrong,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee’s chairman and the lead sponsor of the bill.

“This legislation expands the agency’s ability to explain causes and improves the NTSB’s recommendation process so that we can more effectively address our most pressing safety challenges.”

Approved by a voice vote, the bill now moves to the full Senate.

Supply Chain Innovation

The Federal Maritime Commission published a final report on its supply chain innovation initiative, which summarizes the work of six teams led by Commissioner Rebecca Dye over the past 18 months.

Dye highlighted one recommendation on creating a National Seaport Information Portal to boost the efficiency and resiliency of the international supply chain.

“If we can harmonize the behavior of the actors in our supply chain and stop working at cross purposes, it will boost American economic growth and competitiveness,” she said, urging an approach that looks beyond the dock and the terminal gate and identifies solutions to supply chain challenges by stepping out of “our enterprise silos.”