Washington Waves: April 30, 2018

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Transportation renamed the TIGER grant program and kicked off a new effort to award $1.5 billion in discretionary grant funding, with applications due July 19.

TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants will be replaced by BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants.

In addition to the name change, the new effort will be refocused on infrastructure investment that makes a positive impact and will include several changes in the merit criteria previously used in the competition.

For example, “Environmental Sustainability” listed under TIGER’s criteria became “Environmental Protection” under BUILD.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Special consideration will be given to projects in rural areas, which will be able to receive 100 percent of their costs. Federal assistance for projects in urban areas may not exceed 80 percent of their costs.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said increasing support for rural areas will help ensure that every region of the country benefits.

For the new round of BUILD discretionary grants, the maximum award will be $25 million with no more than $150 million going to a single state.

 Port infrastructure investments, including inland port infrastructure and land ports of entry, will remain eligible, according to the Notice of Funding Opportunity.

To provide assistance to a “broad array of stakeholders,” DOT has scheduled a series of webinars on May 24, 29 and 31, with more expected in June.

DOT must award the grant funds by December 18.

DERA Grants Available

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced availability of grant funds to modernize the nation’s diesel fleet and improve air quality.

EPA said it expects to award about $40 million in grants under the Diesel Emission Reduction Program (DERA).

Eligible applicants include regional, state, local and tribal agencies as well as port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality, and nonprofit organizations that provide pollution reduction or educational services to diesel fleet owners or promote transportation or air quality.

They have until June 12 to apply.

“These grants will incentivize improvements to aging diesel fleets and improve air quality throughout the country,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

“EPA will continue to target funds to areas facing significant air quality issues.”

According to the American Association of Port Authorities, grants in the past have been used by ports for clean truck programs, locomotives, marine engines, non-road engines and cargo handling equipment.

Maritime Authorization Act

By voice vote, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced the Maritime Authorization and Enhancement Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said the bill supports national defense and the U.S. merchant marine industry by reauthorizing the Maritime Administration, addressing the Transportation Department’s inspector general recommendations to improve protections and incident reporting related to sexual assault and harassment and ensuring merchant mariners opportunities for on-the job experiences.

“As is customary, we will seek to include the legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act,” Thune said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the panel, spoke about a provision in the bill requiring vessel sharing among state maritime academies as a short-term solution to the lack of a suitable training ship at Texas A&M Maritime Academy.

“It is my expectation that MarAd Administrator, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, will work directly with my office and this committee to swiftly resolve this issue,” Cruz said.

By voice vote, the panel also advanced the nominations of Vice Adm. Karl Schultz to be the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard with the rank of admiral and Vice Adm. Charles Ray to be vice commandant.

‘Weaponizing’ NEPA

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the National Environmental Policy Act and its potential role in causing years of project delays.

That hearing was entitled “The Weaponization of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Implications of Environmental Lawfare,” and the opening statement of Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah,) made it clear he believes the law is far different than what Congress intended with its passage decades ago.

Bishop spoke of the years it takes to complete environmental impact statements, which can include tens of thousands of pages.

Such delays put the United States at a competitive disadvantage with other nations, he said.

NEPA was never intended to be a weapon to force delays, he said, adding environmental reviews should inform governments of action needed to be taken, not paralyze them.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the panel’s ranking member, accused Republicans of holding yet another misleading hearing to undermine NEPA, which he described as a shield, not a weapon, that protects the environment and even saves taxpayer dollars through informed decision-making.

Most NEPA reviews take only a few days, Grijalva said.

If Republicans want a faster process on advancing infrastructure projects, he said, they need to provide agencies adequate funding.

WRDA Roundtable

As part of its work on an anticipated Water Resources Development Act of 2018, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held another roundtable discussion in Coos Bay, Ore.

Lawmakers at the event on April 20 were Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-La.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the full committee’s ranking member whose district includes Coos Bay, and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

In the closing minutes of the session, Graves spoke about coming up with a process that would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more flexibility to expedite certain decisions on projects.

He said the panel was hoping to have the legislation ready to move in the next few months.

As required by law, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested proposals by non-federal interests for feasibility studies and for modifications to an authorized water resources development project or feasibility study for inclusion in an annual report to Congress on future water resources development.

That annual report by the secretary of the Army is required by Section 7001 of Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and must be based, in part, upon requests submitted by non-federal interests.

Proposals must be submitted by August 20.

For additional information, contact Lisa Kiefel at 202-761-0626.