Washington Waves: February 5, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Groups representing waterways projects applauded President Donald Trump’s call in his State of the Union address for Congress to produce a bill that “generates” at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment even while key details clearly remain a work in progress.

“WCI was thrilled to hear the word ‘waterways’ stated in the State of the Union among important infrastructure,” said Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc.

“We had heard ports and mention of the other modes, but not waterways in modern memory.”

Acknowledging “the devil is in the details,” Calhoun expressed hope the provisions on the inland waterways transportation system will be “equitable, fair and meaningful.”

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American Association of Port Authorities President and CEO Kurt Nagle said his organization is looking forward to an infrastructure package that focuses on transportation investment needs, particularly freight movement.

“It’s reassuring to see that the president recognizes the importance of investing in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” Nagle said, referring to the role ports play in the nation’s economy and security.

Describing presidential addresses as “very prime real estate,” the Soy Transportation Coalition embraced Trump’s focus on the various modes of transportation and the need for making the process more efficient.

“We are still anxious to see greater specificity, particularly regarding funding,” the coalition stated.

In his televised address, Trump said his effort includes leveraging federal dollars, expected to be $200 billion over a decade, by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapPing into private sector investment to fund what the president described as a permanent fix to the nation’s infrastructure deficit.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land,” he said.

Trump also repeated his goal of streamlining the permitting and approval process and reducing the time to no more than two years, and perhaps even one, which would amount to a huge change in federal regulations.

A fact sheet released by the White House explained that half of the new infrastructure funds would go toward incentivizing new state and local investments in infrastructure while a quarter of the federal funds will be dedicated to addressing rural infrastructure needs prioritized by state and local leaders.

That rural angle tracks earlier concerns voiced by Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In his reaction to the presidential address, Barrasso made it clear a robust infrastructure bill also would have to be fiscally responsible.

Key Democrats whose support Trump is hoping to win expressed disappointment.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called Trump’s announcement a “nothing burger.”

“As I have repeatedly said, if the administration wants bipartisan support they must offer an infrastructure plan that strengthens the federal commitment to our national transportation network by providing sustainable, long-term funding,” DeFazio said.

Instead, he said, the president provided “only generic talking points without any specific details.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the president’s plan “lame, puny” and “giveaways” to the private sector.

Asked why the president used the figure $1.5 trillion in his address when he told visiting mayors just last week the infrastructure package could go as high as $1.7 trillion, a White House aide said: “Our internal estimates have shown that, leveraged properly, $200 billion in direct federal spending could generate somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.7 trillion in total investment.”

EPA Testimony

As expected, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee put the partisan divide in Congress on full display with Democrats attacking Pruitt for, in their words, trying to move his agency backward on protecting the nation’s air and water and Republicans praising what he has termed a “back-to-basics” approach.

A question on the EPA’s ongoing effort against the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule gave Pruitt an opportunity to explain that approach.

“We are not deregulating in the traditional sense. We are providing regulatory certainty,” he said of the two-step process to withdraw the 2015 rule and then come up with a replacement definition that will be based on the statute and case law.

“I anticipate that proposal coming out sometime in April, May of this year, the proposed substitute, and hopefully finalizing that before the end of 2018.”

Pruitt again explained the three principles that guide his agency’s approach: rule of law, process in rule making and federalism to share power with the states.

James Confirmed

The Senate confirmed R.D. James of Missouri as an assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

“Mr. James has in-depth knowledge of marine navigation infrastructure needs and issues impacting freight movement, having served on the Mississippi River Commission since 1981,” AAPA said in a statement posted on his organization’s website.

“AAPA is looking forward to working with Mr. James on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and infrastructure investment and other port-related issues.”

The National Waterways Conference also welcomed the James confirmation, citing expected work on the nation’s critical water resources infrastructure.

James was confirmed January 25 by a vote of 89 to 1 with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) casting the lone vote against confirmation.

No VISA Open Season

The Maritime Administration announced it will no longer hold an annual open season for U.S.-flag vessel operators to enroll in the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program that helps the Defense Department meet national contingency requirements and emergencies.

MarAd said those interested in participating now can submit applications at any time.

“In return for their VISA commitment, DOD gives VISA participants priority for peacetime cargo,” MarAd stated in the Federal Register.

For additional information, contact William McDonald at 202-366-0688.