Washington, D.C.—The Senate gave final congressional approval to a bill to put on hold a Coast Guard rule requiring use of biometric readers for Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards at high-risk maritime facilities until an assessment of the program’s effectiveness is submitted to Congress.
H.R. 5729, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Accountability Act, passed the Senate under a unanimous consent request after earlier winning approval in the House floor by voice vote.
It is now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.
According to Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, the measure grew out of industry concerns over the expanded scope of the final version of the rule and the Coast Guard’s inability to explain the benefits of that change.
With the rule set to take effect in August, Katko said a quick fix was needed.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) used a recent hearing on other issues to quiz Coast Guard officials about lawmakers’ concerns over the rule’s blunt approach that would end up covering areas that have no reason to be within TWIC-required areas.
Graves said huge facilities will be forced to retrofit components that have access to the water.
While everyone supports the TWIC card, the approach must be more surgical, he said.
Vice Adm. Daniel Abel, deputy Coast Guard commandant for operations, responded to Graves’ concerns by pointing to the recently proposed rulemaking to delay the TWIC reader rule for two categories of facilities to give the service time to work with industry on another approach.
Senate Appropriations Action
Before heading out for a two-week recess, the Senate passed another “minibus” appropriations bill that included funds for transportation and other government programs.
That action followed approval of a minibus bill with funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Both will have to be reconciled with the versions passed by the House of Representatives, which began its month-long recess a few days earlier.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other key Republicans expressed confidence their approach to the appropriations process this year would help avoid what McConnell called a “big event” at the end of the fiscal year in September and yet another massive omnibus bill to keep the government from shutting down.
Despite all the talk of a return to regular order, several signs indicated the path to fiscal year 2019 could become complicated.
McConnell said senators on both sides of the aisle in his chamber had agreed to stand down on so-called policy riders on controversial issues that could prevent a spending bill from passing.
He acknowledged the House is taking a different approach.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) conceded that not all of the appropriations bills would be ready by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.
“We’ll have to have a CR (continuing resolution) to bridge us over until later on,” Ryan said at his last press conference before the chamber’s August break.
President Trump continues to remain open to a government shutdown to force Congress on funding a wall on the southern border.
Clearly, a possible shutdown was not part of what Ryan described as a productive meeting he and McConnell had with Trump earlier about their united front on getting the appropriations bills to him as quickly as possible after Labor Day.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called on President Trump to nominate Andrew Wheeler as the official administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency as the senator cited the agency’s year-long effort against the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
Wheeler was named acting EPA administrator several weeks ago when Scott Pruitt resigned the top post amid multiple investigations into his leadership of the agency.
Barrasso’s recommendation came during what was something of a homecoming hearing for Wheeler, who at one time led the EPW committee’s staff.
In addition to laying out Wheeler’s qualifications for a nomination, Barrasso joined other Republicans in going over a number of issues EPA is dealing with as it continues to implement Trump’s agenda that includes less regulation.
Among those he singled out was the agency’s work to replace the Obama-era WOTUS rule.
Democrats, while acknowledging the differences they will continue to have with the EPA under Trump, welcomed the opportunity Wheeler has been given to be more transparent and win back the public’s trust.
“I have to be honest with you,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking member, said as he welcomed Wheeler’s first appearance on Capitol Hill as acting EPA administrator.
“I’m even more pleased that the person at our witness table is not Scott Pruitt.”
Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called on colleagues, stakeholders and others to share any responsible ideas they have on improving the nation’s infrastructure.
Shuster’s request came just days after he unveiled a draft version to help reignite discussion on that topic.
“Join the conversation on Twitter @transport and use the tag #building21,” he said.
Shuster also shared a number of initial responses to his draft proposal with most stressing the importance of holding such a discussion.
Users Board Nominations
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking nominations for the Inland Waterways Users Board.
According to the notice, seven appointments will be made by the secretary of the Army for terms set to begin by May 28, 2019.
Nominations must be received by September 15.
For additional information, contact Kenneth Lichtman at 703-428-8083.
Lakes Pilotage Committee
The U.S. Coast Guard extended its deadline for applications to join the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee.
With the new notice, the request for applications will remain open until the vacancy scheduled to occur on September 30 is filled.
“Applicants who responded to the initial notice do not need to reapply,” the notice stated, adding the upcoming vacancy should be filled with someone with a background in finance or accounting.
For additional information, contact Rajiv Khandpur at 202–372–1525.
The committee is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. September 10 in Cape Vincent, N.Y.
Open to the public, the meeting will be held at a location owned by Saint Lawrence Seaway Pilots Association, 230 N. Point St., Cape Vincent, N.Y. 13618.
Written comments submitted prior to the meeting must be received by September 4.
For additional information, contact Vincent Berg at 202-906–0835.
The Federal Maritime Commission has amended its rules governing Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) Negotiated Rate Arrangements and NVOCC Service Arrangements to modernize, update and reduce regulatory burdens.
Those changes take effect August 22.
For additional information, contact Rachel Dickon at 202-523–5725.