Washington Waves: May 21, 2018

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt told a key Senate panel that his agency will stick to its schedule to have a replacement for the contentious Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation ready to go by the end of this year.

“I anticipate by the end of this month that we will actually have a proposed definition replacement of the 2015 rule that will go out for a proposal for people to comment upon, and that will begin either late this month or early next month,” the EPA administrator said.

Pruitt was responding to questions from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

“I have heard rumbles out there that the time frame for completion may be slipping on this,” Murkowski said, reminding Pruitt of the importance she places on replacing the Obama-era rule for the two thirds of Alaska designated as wetlands.

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Pruitt spoke of the multi-step process EPA has taken on WOTUS, adding that work on the proposed withdrawal of the current rule is expected to be completed early in the third quarter of this year.

Republicans have made it clear EPA’s work on issues such as WOTUS is helping Pruitt withstand the sometimes scathing criticism leveled at him concerning his travel costs, a former condo lease and security detail.

During the budget hearing, they mostly limited their questions to parochial matters with some even thanking him for the direction he is taking the agency.

Democrats on the panel hammered the embattled Pruitt on his management style at EPA and the multiple investigations into ethical concerns.

Murkowski did not give Pruitt a complete pass, using her opening statement to warn Pruitt his agenda at EPA is being overshadowed by such questions.

“Instead of being asked about the work that you are doing on WOTUS, or the Clean Power Plan, or the Superfund program, I am being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security, on housing, and on travel,” she said, describing some of the questions as legitimate that need to be answered.

Infrastructure Priority?

At the same time White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders once again was downgrading infrastructure as a top legislative priority for the administration, President Donald Trump was issuing a proclamation promoting his own plan for a $1.5 trillion infusion into the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump’s proclamation even referenced the leadership of former President Dwight Eisenhower, who signed the law that created the “landmark system of interstate highways.”

When responding to a reporter’s question, however, Sanders suggested immigration could take the place of infrastructure on the administration’s legislative agenda for 2018.

Still, despite such a mixed message from the White House, a veteran Republican senator who has been involved in infrastructure bills for decades insisted the issue remains very much alive in Congress, pointing to provisions already included in various bills making their way through the legislative process this year.

“There is bipartisan support for getting infrastructure across the finish line, and I think there is a real commitment from Congress,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

CG Change Of Command

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft will be relieved by Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander Vice Adm. Karl Schultz at a change-of-command ceremony on June 1.

The 11 a.m. ceremony will be held at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Washington, D.C.

Schultz won Senate confirmation for his new post earlier this month.

Zukunft, whose retirement was announced earlier, became the Coast Guard’s 25th commandant in 2014.

Corps Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee, by a vote of 29–20, approved a major spending bill that would provide a significant funding boost for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, controversial policy riders included in the bill, such as one to repeal the WOTUS rule, triggered a Democratic warning on final passage.

Members from both sides of the aisle welcomed the spending increase for the Corps, which would be funded at $7.28 billion, an increase of $451 million above the enacted level of fiscal year 2018, with $3.3 billion for navigation projects and studies, $1.6 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and full use of the estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

State Of Freight

The American Association of Port Authorities released a report identifying more than $20 billion in projected multimodal port and rail access needs over the next decade.

Titled “The State of Freight III,” the report is the third in as many years on the needs of ports to move goods into and out of their facilities by land and water.

AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle said that while the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act had been essential for building a national freight program, more must be done to ensure adequate resources are provided for multimodal projects.

“Our nation’s ports have identified a vast array of projects that are ready for investment and could move forward if the issues in this report could be addressed,” Nagle said.

Other key findings: one third of U.S. port authorities cited pressing rail project needs costing at least $50 million for each of their ports, 67 percent identified funding and financing options as the biggest obstacles to getting essential rail projects started, 37 percent reported problematic at-grade rail crossings and height-restricted overpasses and tunnels constrain cargo-handling capacity, and 36 percent cited land acquisition as a problem for developing port rail access projects.

NY Harbor Safety

The Coast Guard is seeking comments on a proposal to increase navigational safety in New York Harbor.

According to information provided by the Guard, the security zone surrounding the bridge between Liberty State Park and Ellis Island would be modified to allow certain vessels to transit underneath the bridge.

That change would reduce congestion in the adjacent Anchorage Channel.

For additional information, contact MST1 Kristina Pundt at 718-354-4352.

NGA Rebroadcasts

The U.S. Coast Guard has requested comments on a proposal to cease rebroadcasting navigational warnings from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

While not required to rebroadcast the HYDROLANT (Atlantic Ocean location) and HYDROPAC (Pacific Ocean/Pacific Rim location) warnings, the Coast Guard has been doing so for years on High Frequency Simplex Teletype Over Radio service (HF SITOR), a practice that it now describes as time consuming and negatively impactful on its other safety missions.

It also pointed out the number of other ways such information can be available such as messages over INMARSAT maritime satellite telecommunications services, U.S. Notice to Mariners on the NGA website and via emails and Google Earth messages.

“In light of all of the foregoing ways in which this weather-related information is available to mariners, the Coast Guard’s rebroadcasting of these warnings has become unnecessary,” the Coast Guard stated in the Federal Register.

Comments must be submitted by July 13.

For additional information, contact Derrick Croinex at 202-475-3551.