Legislative/Regulatory

Washington Waves, January 1, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Another stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded and avoid a shutdown again postponed decisions on a number of major spending issues for the remaining eight months of the current fiscal year.

Differences ranging from the levels of funding for defense to those that do not turn on spending such as immigration, continue to divide the two parties.

Passed as lawmakers headed out of town, the current stopgap measure runs until January 19.

Leading appropriators have made it clear they want to reach an agreement that would pave the way for passage of the individual spending bills through September.

A watch list for those in the waterways industry includes the level of funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the language impacting the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

The American Association of Port Authorities has identified its top priority for the appropriations bill that funds the Corps as the “continued annual progress towards the goal of full use of Harbor Maintenance Tax funding for navigation channel maintenance.”

 Infrastructure Plans

President Donald Trump once again promoted infrastructure during his remarks following his unexpectedly quick signing of the comprehensive tax reform bill in the Oval Office.

“Infrastructure is the easiest of all,” Trump said when asked whether he wished he had started his first year in office with that issue.

“People want it, Republicans and Democrats.”

He went on to predict “tremendous Democrat support” for infrastructure.

“I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So we’ll be having that done pretty quickly.”

Several days ago, Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, described infrastructure as a top goal for the coming year.

In his year-end press conference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expects to meet with the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in early January to discuss the legislative agenda for the second session of the 115th Congress.

McConnell is married to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and routinely references her interest in an infrastructure package.

Streamlining Project Approval

In yet another boost for the president’s promise of a major infrastructure package, Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, said streamlining the approval process for projects would be the No. 1 goal of the administration’s upcoming plan.

He used an appearance at an event hosted by Axios to point to projects that have been on the list of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since the 1920s without final approval.

Cohn also dismissed a suggestion that money would not be available to fund the president’s campaign promise of an infrastructure package with a trillion-dollar price tag.

“We do have money,” he insisted.

In addition to $200 billion in federal funds that he said could be leveraged to get to the trillion-dollar mark, Cohn cited money that local and state governments have had sitting in their budgets as projects waited sometimes years for approval.

He pointed to the success Australia has had in cutting its approval times, suggesting the U.S. could reduce its wait time for some projects from years to weeks and months.

Cohn also said an infrastructure bank would not be a part of the administration’s plan because that approach would not be efficient enough.

MERPAC Nominations Sought

The Coast Guard is requesting applications for the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee.

According to a Federal Register notice, the applications will be used to fill eight positions that will either become vacant in August or are currently vacant.

The deadline for applications is February 26.

Members act in an advisory capacity to the secretary of DHS through the commandant of the Coast Guard on matters related to personnel in the U.S. Merchant Marine, including training, qualifications, certification, documentation and fitness standards.

For additional information, contact Davis Breyer at 202-372-1455.

STCW Assessments

Mariners trying to complete their Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) assessments after December 31, 2017, now have until the end of 2019 to get them signed by a qualified assessor (QA), according to an announcement posted on the National Maritime Center website.

“The Coast Guard is aware that as a result of the limited number of approved QAs, there may be a hardship on mariners trying to complete STCW assessments after December 31, 2017,” the announcement stated.

“In consideration of this, the Coast Guard will continue to allow STCW assessments to be signed by an assessor who meets the requirements specified in NVIC 02-14 until December 31, 2019.”

 Mariners, the announcement added, must submit the assessments to the Coast Guard as part of a complete application “no later than June 30, 2020.”

For additional information, contact the Customer Service Center at 888-427-5662.

Capt. Kirsten Martin, the NMC’s commanding officer, signed the update.

Environmental Advisory Board

The Chief of Engineers’ Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on January 10 in Jacksonville, Fla.

According to the agenda, the EAB will advise the chief of engineers on environmental policy, identification and resolution of environmental issues and missions and addressing challengers, problems, and opportunities in an environmentally responsible manner.

Specific topics include invasive species, environmental metrics, strategic planning and monitoring and adaptive management and presentations and discussions about regional sediment management.

Comments from the public are sought.

The meeting will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront, 1201 Riverplace Blvd., Jacksonville, Fla. 32207.

For additional information, contact Mindy Simmons at 202-761-4127.

LMRWSAC To Meet

The Lower Mississippi River Waterway Safety Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, January 9 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the safe transit of vessels and cargoes.

Open to the public, the meeting will be held at the New Orleans Engineer District Office, 7400 Leake Ave., New Orleans, La. 70118.

For additional information, contact Lt. Brian Porter at 504-365-2375.

The committee provides advice and recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security on communications, surveillance, traffic management, anchorages, development and operation of the New Orleans Vessel Traffic Service and other related topics.

Fair Port Practices

In a notice in the Federal Register, the Federal Maritime Commission listed its schedule to receive testimony on the petition filed by the Coalition for Fair Port Practices for rulemaking.

Two days of hearings have been scheduled on January 16 and 17 in the FMC’s Main Hearing Room, 800 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20573.

Set to begin at 10 a.m. on both days, the hearings are open to the public.

Day 1 includes coalition, shipper and intermediary panels while Day 2 has drayage, ocean carrier and ports and terminals panels.

Questions from the commissioners will follow presentations by members of the six panels.

Issues associated with detention, demurrage and per diem charges were raised by the coalition’s petition.

Doyle Moving To DCA

Federal Maritime Commissioner William Doyle will leave his position this month to become the executive director and CEO of the Dredging Contractors of America, the agency announced in a statement.

Doyle has served on the commission for five years, following confirmation by the Senate in 2013 and again in 2015.

His current term expires in 2018.

Doyle expressed gratitude for his service with other commissioners “genuinely concerned about the competitiveness and effectiveness of the nation’s ocean cargo systems.”

According to the announcement, he will be responsible for management, advocacy and policy issues of the Dredging Contractors of America.

Doyle’s last day on the commission is expected to be January 2.

 Supply Chain Competitiveness

The International Trade Administration is requesting nominations for the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competiveness.

Applications for immediate consideration must be received by 5 p.m. January 12, 2018. Those received after that date will be used to fill vacancies that occur later.

For additional information, contact Richard Boll at 202-482-1135.

GAO Fishing Vessel Report

In a recently released report, the Government Accountability Office  recommended that the Coast Guard and other agencies form a working group to collect reliable data on the number of active fishing vessels and clarify the “alternative-to-class” certification process.

That certification process was introduced in 2016 as an alternative to the one that required many boats to be built and maintained under the so-called classing process to improve safety.

“We examined costs and effectiveness of classing. Stakeholders agreed that classing increases costs, but there is limited data to quantify this or its effectiveness,” GAO stated.

“They also said they were unclear about implementing the alternative approach.”

Commercial fishing’s high death rates were also noted by the GAO.

Fishing Advisory Committee

After failing to generate any interest from an earlier bid, the U.S. Coast Guard once again is seeking applications for membership on the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee.

Two positions on the committee, which provides advice and makes recommendations to the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security on safe operation of commercial fishing industry vessels, will become vacant in January.

One of the vacancies will be filled by an individual representing the general public but who is also a marine surveyor who provides services to vessels, while the second position will be filled by an individual representing manufacturers of equipment for vessels.

The deadline for applications is February 26.

The two positions were advertised several months ago, but, according to a notice posted in the Federal Register, no applications were received for either position.

For additional information, contact Jonathan Wendland at 202-372-1245.

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