Washington Waves: April 16, 2018

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined other federal agencies in committing to a  memorandum the Trump administration says will streamline environmental reviews and eliminate needless delays of major infrastructure projects.

Named the “One Federal Decision Memorandum of Understanding,” the MOU formally establishes at the agency level a policy President Donald Trump put in place by executive order last year.

That action gives agencies and congressional Republicans a much-needed development to highlight while questions remain on the president’s $1.5-trillion infrastructure initiative.

Key elements of the MOU call for one agency to take the lead role on navigating through the permitting process, all agencies to sign one “Record of Decision” on complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and a 90-day deadline for relevant agencies to issue necessary permits for a project.

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“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committed to meeting the needs of our nation’s project sponsors in the processing of its environmental review and permits in a timely, coordinated and concurrent way as called for in the MOU,” said Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper, who signed the MOU for the Corps as well as the Army.

 R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army-civil works, attended the signing ceremony and said the MOU will help the Corps “to move dirt and get results for the nation,” one of his top goals for taking his job.

“The president’s plan sets a two-year goal of completing the permitting process,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a major congressional player on infrastructure as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“This is a commonsense idea that will help get projects done faster, better, cheaper and smarter.”

Other agencies that have signed the MOU include the Transportation, Homeland Security and Commerce departments and Environmental Protection Agency.

The administration insists the environmental protections will not be shortchanged, but critics reject that claim.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, accused the administration of overstating the impact of the environmental reviews on specific projects it cited to support the policy.

“The real barrier to Trump’s infrastructure plan isn’t environmental protections, it’s Republicans’ failure to legislate,” Grijalva said, adding Republicans are too scared to approve the funding needed to move forward with their own president’s effort.

FY 2019 Appropriations

Congress returned after a two-week break, and members of the appropriations committees focused attention on fiscal year 2019 funding.

In a letter to the top leaders of the subcommittees that handle transportation spending, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), made a pitch to continue funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Nagle expressed support for $1.5 billion in funding, the same level included in the recently passed FY 2018 Omnibus, with a minimum of 25 percent dedicated to port-related infrastructure needs.

“This program is the only general federal funding source for port-related infrastructure,” he stated.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, referred to the administration’s proposal to kill the “highly effective and popular TIGER competitive grant program” in her opening statement at a hearing on the proposed Department of Transportation budget.

State and local governments would have nowhere to turn to fund vital improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges, ports and railways, Collins said.

Speaker To Resign

 Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, cited passage of “critical infrastructure legislation” under the leadership of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who announced he will retire from Congress in January.

In applauding Ryan’s tenure as speaker, Shuster, who previously announced his own retirement, referred to passage of the FAST Act and the Water Infrastructure Improvements to the Nation Act.

Ryan’s announcement was not the only development worth noting by the waterways industry.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, succeeding former Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), whose retirement was viewed as a major loss by waterways supporters.

Tom Bossert, President Trump’s homeland security adviser and the go-to official to explain the administration’s stance on the Jones Act, resigned.

House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who helmed a recent hearing responding to concerns over the communications and interactions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, resigned his office amid ethical concerns.

So far, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has kept that top job after being hit with a series of news reports focusing on concerns ranging from the costs of his security detail to the amount of rent he paid on a condo linked to a lobbyist.

While White House reviews continue, President Trump has praised Pruitt’s approach to regulatory reform.

Medical Certificate Applications

Mariners can now email medical certificate applications directly to the National Maritime Center under an option established by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In its announcement, the NMC instructed mariners to use the following email: MEDAIP@uscg.mil.

“Regional Examination Centers (RECs) will continue to accept medical applications as well,” the NMC stated, stressing that direct submissions to the NMC will be limited to medical certificate applications only.

“Applications for a Merchant Mariner Credential (CG-719B/MMC) cannot be submitted directly to the NMC. Any e-mailed application for an MMC, with or without a medical certificate application, made directly to the NMC will be deleted and the applicant will get an e-mail response with directions on how to resubmit their applications to an REC.”

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

Beneficial Use Proposals 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it received 94 proposals for beneficial use of dredged material pilot projects under provisions in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.

Under that law, the Corps is to establish a pilot program to carry out 10 projects in consultation with states.

Proposals represent projects in 29 states and Puerto Rico and cover what the Corps described as a broad range of activities that include coastal restoration, storm damage risk reduction, port expansion and other construction projects.

Louisiana led with 13 proposals, followed by Florida with nine and Washington with eight, while 10 states and Puerto Rico had one each.

A preliminary recommendation is expected by the end of June.