Washington Waves: April 23, 2018

Washington, D.C.—A bill authorizing funding for the U.S. Coast Guard stalled in the Senate because it also included the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act that supporters say would offer important regulatory relief to the waterways industry.

On a 56–42 roll call, the bill fell four votes short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate and move toward a final vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed political posturing by Democrats for the setback, noting the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act enjoyed bipartisan support in the past and repeatedly won support of a key committee even when it was controlled by Democrats.

“Democrats filibustered this legislation because it contains an eminently sensible, bipartisan provision to streamline regulations for the mariners and vessel operators who drive America’s maritime economy,” McConnell said following the vote.

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“It would cut back on duplicative rules and overlapping enforcement, and provide a uniform standard that protects the environment and commerce alike.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who helped lead opposition to the measure, said it would harm the Great Lakes.

“The Coast Guard legislation on the floor today included a dangerous ballast water provision that would allow for the spread of invasive species in our Great Lakes, hurting local communities and our coastal economy,” Baldwin said.

She called for the ballast water provision to be removed to allow the Coast Guard to be passed.

Immediately after the vote, McConnell served notice he was not giving up by taking action that preserves his right to bring the bill up again.

“So the Senate will consider this issue further, and will vote on this legislation again,” he said later.

Corps Budget Discussion

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fell flat at a hearing held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

“This year’s budget proposal is a huge step backwards for our nation’s inland waterways,” Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in his opening comments.

Alexander challenged the witnesses on how they plan to fund the nation’s water infrastructure sufficiently without requesting adequate resources.

Specific provisions he singled out for criticism included spending only $5 million of the $104 million the Inland Waterways Trust Fund would have available in fiscal year 2019, a new user fee to raise another $1.7 billion over 10 years and a failure to meet the spending target for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $477 million.

Other members of the subcommittee took turns asking similar questions.

R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, did not offer much of a defense.

At one point, he described the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund as a “slippery animal,” and not at all what he expected when he took his job.

 That led Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) to suggest that perhaps a closed-door meeting with key administration officials might help make those trust funds less “slippery.”

 Small Shipyard Grants

The Maritime Administration announced it intends to provide $19.6 million in grants under the Small Shipyard Grant Program.

Applications must be received by May 22.

“Potential applicants are advised that it is expected, based on experience, that the number of applications will far exceed the funds available and that only a small percentage of applications will be funded,” MarAd stated in its Federal Register notice.

“It is anticipated that roughly 8–20 applications will be selected for funding with an average grant amount of about $1 million.”

According to MarAd, the grants will fund “capital and related improvements to qualified shipyard facilities that will be effective in fostering efficiency, competitive operations, and quality ship construction, repair and reconfiguration.”

Grant applications should be sent to the Associate Administrator for Business and Finance Development, Room W21–318, Maritime Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20590.

For additional information, contact David M. Heller, director, Office of Shipyards and Marine Engineering, Maritime Administration, at 202-366-5737.

Deputy EPA Administrator

By a vote of 53–45, the U.S. Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wheeler is one of several former aides to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch conservative who views manmade global warming as a hoax, to take a key post at EPA.

Previously, Wheeler led the energy and environment team at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting and served as vice president of the Washington Coal Club.

MTSNAC Nominations

The Maritime Administration is requesting nominations for membership on the U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee.

For immediate consideration, nominations must be received by May 29, but applications will be accepted for another two years for future vacancies.

Individuals can self-apply or be nominated by others.

Members will be selected from nominees who can advise on marine transportation issues such as active mariners, vessel operators, port and terminal operators, shippers, cargo owners and shipbuilders, MarAd stated.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Flumignan at 212-668-2064.

Academy Board Of Visitors

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors will meet at 3 p.m. today (April 23) at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, Room SVC 201–00.

Items on the agenda include a vote on board bylaws, updates on the five-year strategic plan and the Critical Infrastructure Plan and plans for the academy’s 75th anniversary.

For additional information, contact Brian Blower at 202-366-2765.

Savannah Port Boundaries

U.S. Customs and Border Protection adopted a final rule expanding the boundaries of the port of Savannah, Ga.

According to an agency spokesman, the new boundaries of the Savannah port of entry include the majority of Chatham County, Ga., as well as a small portion of Effingham County, Ga., and Jasper County, S.C.

The spokesman added the expanded area includes the area that travel modes, trade volume, and transportation infrastructure have expanded greatly since 1940, when the Port of Savannah was established by executive order.

“CBP determined that the extension of the boundaries were necessary to ensure the boundaries were easily identifiable to the public and to allow for uniform and continuous service to the extended area of Savannah, Ga.,” he said.

Boating Council Appointments

The U.S. Coast Guard announced 15 appointments to the National Boating Safety Advisory Council

New members represent the states of Idaho, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida as well as the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Water Sports Industry Association, American Canoe Association, American Boat & Yacht Council, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, U.S. Sailing and several private businesses.

Prince William Sound Council

The U.S. Coast Guard has recertified the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council as an alternative voluntary advisory group for Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Effective through March 1, 2019, that certification allows the council to monitor activities of terminal facilities and crude oil tankers under the Prince William Sound Program established by law.

For additional information, contact Lt. Ian McPhillips at 907-463-2809.

Lakes Pilotage Committee

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee.

Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by April 27.

They will be considered for two vacancies scheduled to occur on September 30; one will represent vessel operators that contract for Great Lakes pilotage services while the second must have a background in finance or accounting along with a unanimous recommendation by other members of the committee, but may be appointed without the five years of experience in maritime operations required for other members.

For additional information, contact Rajiv Khandpur at 202-372-1525.

Offshore Safety Committee

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee, which provides advice on the exploration of offshore mineral and energy resources.

Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by May 22.

Four vacancies are scheduled to occur on January 31, 2019; three will represent companies, organizations or enterprises engaged in offshore operations, diving services to the offshore industry and subsea engineering, construction or remotely operated vehicle support to the offshore industry, while the fourth will represent the general public.

For additional information, contact Patrick Clark at 202-372-1358.

DGPS Discontinuation

The Coast Guard announced the discontinuation of its remaining 38 maritime Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) sites through a two-year phased reduction beginning in September.

Established in the late 1980s, the maritime DGPS system augmented an existing GPS signal with accuracy corrections and integrity monitoring because the publicly available GPS signal was degraded intentionally through selective availability, which was discontinued in 2000.

As system technology improved, observed positional accuracy for un-augmented GPS consistently met requirements for harbor and harbor-approach navigation on modern GPS receivers.

Other government and commercial augmentation systems such as the U.S. Wide Area Augmentation System are readily available to provide GPS accuracy corrections, the Coast Guard explained in its Federal Register notice, adding it no longer has the same DGPS mission requirement and cannot justify further investment.

 For additional information, contact Capt. Mary Ellen Durley at 202-372-1605.