Washington Waves

Washington Waves: July 2, 2018

Members of the waterways industry urged the Trump administration to be open and transparent and consider local input on its dramatic proposal to reorganize the federal government, specifically on consolidating functions of the U.S. Corps of Engineers with the Transportation and Interior departments.

“Managing water for multiple purposes can and often does lead to conflict among competing interests,” the National Waterways Conference (NWC) stated.

Keeping federal activities on water resources within a single agency would help to optimize such competing interests, allow proper coordination among federal, state and local levels, and protect the multiple benefits produced by projects, the NWC said.

It added Congress and the Corps have recognized the need to streamline the agency’s business model and improve project delivery and responsiveness, citing the reforms enacted through legislation in 2014 and 2016.

Moreover, the NWC said, pending legislation in Congress calls for a comprehensive study of the Corps’ structure and organization and the effects of transferring its functions to an existing or new agency.

The American Association of Port Authorities expressed similar comments.

Sen. Ron Johnson, (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, welcomed the administration’s “outside-the-box” thinking and introduced a bill to expand its authority to reorganize federal agencies.

In the House, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine the administration’s government-wide plan.

In her opening statement, Margaret Weichert, deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, stressed the need for change by including among her examples the “organizational complexity and costly regulatory overhead” faced by infrastructure projects at ports. Weichert later responded to a question on the costs of project delays by speaking about how the Corps’ “very good intentions” on the nation’s waterways can result in complex and conflicting regulatory burden that make improvements difficult to achieve.

Although somewhat muted so far, reactions to the administration’s proposal range from Republicans’ welcoming comments to criticism from Democrats who question whether it should be taken seriously at this point.

Senates Passes Funding Package

The Senate passed its version of an omnibus appropriations package that includes funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A conference committee now is expected to be used to hammer out differences with the House version.

Key senators from both parties made it clear the conference committee’s approach must avoid so-called “poison pill” provisions that Democrats say ended up in the House bill.

A major test of that line-in-the-sand came when the Senate voted to table an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to include language in the Senate version against the contentious Waters of the United States rule put in place by Obama administration.

The vote killing the Lee amendment was 62 to 34, which included several leading Republicans who oppose WOTUS but clearly hope to keep the appropriations process on track with Democrats on board.

EPA Memo On Dredged Materials

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memo to boost regulatory certainty in the permitting process on discharges of dredged or fill materials under the Clean Water Act’s Section 404.

“We must ensure that EPA exercises its authority under the Clean Water Act in a careful, predictable, and prudent manner,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s memo directs the agency’s Office of Water to develop a proposed rule that would consider several changes, including eliminating the so-called preemptive veto of a permit application before it has been filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or a state as well as the retroactive veto of a permit after it has been issued.

TWIC Card Reader Delay Proposed

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced a bill to ensure the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program is working before it is expanded to require the use of card readers.

Introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Act of 2018 was approved by a voice vote.

The American Chemistry Council called for swift Senate passage of the bill, adding it will provide much needed regulatory relief to thousands of workers across the country.

Just days earlier, the Coast Guard published a notice of proposed rulemaking to delay the TWIC reader rule for two categories of facilities from August 23, 2018, to August 23, 2021.

Those two categories include those that handle certain dangerous cargoes in bulk and those that receive such vessels but do not transfer the dangerous cargoes to or from vessels.

Other facilities covered by the current rule must still meet the effective date of August 23, 2018.

Comments on the proposed delay must be received by July 23.

“This proposed delay is to consider industry input asking us to reconsider the scope of the TWIC reader final rule and to re-evaluate the underlying methodology used to determine the facilities subject to the electronic TWIC inspection requirements,” said Capt. Ryan Manning, chief of the Office of Port and Facility Compliance.

For additional information, contact Lt. Cmdr. Yamaris Barril at 202-372-1151.

MarAd Funds Program Grants

The Maritime Administration (MarAd) published a notice for funding another round of marine highway program grants.

Totaling $6.7 million, this round will be limited to projects previously designed by the transportation secretary for the program and related to the support of documented vessels and port and landslide infrastructure.

MarAd must receive applications by 5 p.m. October 5.

For additional information, contact Tori Collins at 202-366-0795.

“Danger” Removed From Rule 34

The National Maritime Center issued a bulletin to ensure mariners and training providers know of a previously advertised technical change that removes the word “danger” from the Inland Navigation Rules regarding maneuvering and warning signals.
That change in Rule 34 took effect in January.

It was made to alleviate potential ambiguity concerning the signal described in Rule 34 specific to a vessel that does not understand the intentions or actions of another vessel or is in doubt that sufficient action is being taken to avoid collision.

“Vessels may use this signal even when “danger” is not present,” the bulletin stated.