Why Did VIDA Have To Die?
In 2017, the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) was reintroduced as S.168 by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Robert Casey (D-Pa.). The bill was favorably reported to the full Senate by the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation with strong bipartisan support. The House bill, H.R. 1154, was reintroduced by Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). It was incorporated into the Coast Guard authorization bill.
Passing VIDA is the barge industry’s top legislative priority. As The American Waterways Operators says on its website, “Currently, commercial vessel owners and operators contend with overlapping and inconsistent regulations for vessel discharges that are administered by two federal agencies (the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency) and more than two dozen states. This patchwork of requirements makes compliance confusing and costly for the vast majority of industry members.”
A few weeks ago, VIDA’s supporters thought it was in the bag.
Yet at the 11th hour, eight senators suddenly flipped their votes on the Coast Guard authorization bill that included VIDA. All were Democrats except one independent, Sen. Angus King of Maine. Some had previously co-sponsored versions of VIDA.
Reportedly, the pro-VIDA senators came under intense pressure from Minority Leader Chuck Shumer on behalf of senators from Great Lakes states who have concerns about ballast water and their upcoming elections.
Some VIDA opponents are falsely suggesting that it would weaken discharge standards, when in fact it would strengthen and standardize them, and speed up the introduction of ballast water treatment equipment. Before businesses invest in expensive ballast-water equipment, they need to know it will be compliant in all jurisdictions where they operate.
When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saw what was happening, he also switched his vote to “no,” but this was a purely parliamentary maneuver giving him the power to reintroduce the bill, which VIDA supporters want to do as quickly as possible.
Another, more disturbing theory suggested by some Washington observers is that the real reason for the flip-flop has nothing to do with VIDA’s merits as legislation and everything to do with frustrating President Donald Trump’s agenda. According to this theory, Shumer has decided he is going to “run out the clock,” or use every legislative maneuver he can to slow down action until the midterm elections. The point of such deliberate time-wasting is to prevent Trump from using Senate floor time to appoint more federal judges before the midterms.
If this theory is correct, it’s a sad commentary on our current bitter politics. It means that worthy bills like VIDA are needlessly sacrificed to partisan crossfire from unrelated issues.
But having granted hesitating Great Lakes senators the time they say they need to work out their concerns, VIDA’s supporters intend to continue to make the strong case that a uniform ballast discharge standard benefits everyone.