Washington Waves: September 3, 2018

Washington, D.C.— Funding bills tracked by the waterways industry were covered by a verbal victory lap by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he praised his chamber’s bipartisan approach to the annual appropriations process this year.

“We have now passed bills, as you know, that fund almost 90 percent of the government,” McConnell said, reminding reporters of his goal to avoid a massive measure to keep the government funded, never a preferred route for members of Congress.

“This is about omnibus prevention.”

He repeated his optimistic outlook on getting appropriation bills to President Trump for his signature before October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year although a continuing resolution is expected to be needed to finish the appropriations process.

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McConnell’s remarks about his decision to cancel his chamber’s traditional August break came just hours before senators cut their work week down to two days.

When both chambers reconvene after Labor Day, the big challenge will be to get the various bills into conference and hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions and forward them on to the president’s desk.

So far, the Senate, which McConnell happily pointed out has outpaced the House, has approved three so-called “minibus” spending bills, which represent nine of the traditional 12 individual appropriations measures.

Those include funding for water development and transportation.

EPA Vows WOTUS Repeal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its efforts against the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule of 2015 will not be delayed by a recent court decision that tossed its two-year suspension of the controversial rule originally put in place by the Obama administration.

In a statement, EPA also announced it and others involved in the South Carolina case have filed motions appealing U.S. District Judge David Horton’s ruling and asking for a stay of his decision.

“The agencies are working expeditiously on the two-step rulemaking process, and the court’s decision will not slow the agencies’ process,” the EPA stated, referring to the involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This work includes reviewing comments received on the supplemental notice for Step 1, and the Step 2 proposal is currently undergoing interagency review.”

When he was EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt repeatedly assured members of Congress the effort against the 2015 rule would be completed by the end of 2018.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in Ohio recently a proposal on WOTUS will be coming within two months.

Horton ruled the agencies did not provide meaningful opportunity for public comment on that action.

EPA explained that under Horton’s ruling, the 2015 WOTUS rule is now in effect in 26 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Recognizing the uncertainty created by the ruling, EPA suggested that states, tribes or other entities should contact it or a local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district office for assistance.

“While the litigation continues, the agencies are complying with the district court’s order, and implementation issues that arise are being handled on a case-by-case basis,” EPA stated.

Port Security Grants
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) marked the announcement of fiscal year 2018 port security grants by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The program was funded at $100 million, and more than 36 ports received direct grants,” AAPA stated, emphasizing that funding for the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) remains a top AAPA priority.

“Both the House and Senate FY 2019 DHS appropriations bills include $100 million for the PSGP,” an AAPA Alert stated.

AAPA stated it has surveyed its members on their future needs of the program and will be releasing results this fall.

Preliminary results, it said, have revealed that AAPA members project a $4 billion need for security grants for port authorities alone over the next decade, an average of $400 million a year.

Jones Act, Federal Primacy
Responding to an official request for comments on deregulatory efforts, The American Waterways Operators urged the Trump administration not to even consider changes to the Jones Act and related laws and to strengthen federal primacy in the regulation of maritime commerce.

“The Jones Act keeps seafaring and shipbuilding jobs in America and ensures that the domestic maritime sector can flourish with the certainty of a level American playing field,” AWO President and CEO Thomas Allegretti wrote in a August 24 letter submitted to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Without the certainty provided by the Jones Act, the letter added, the domestic maritime industry would move overseas, with U.S. jobs outsourced to China and South Korea, which subsidize their shipyards and ship owners.

Allegretti’s letter also cited the U.S. military services’ support of the Jones Act and its important role in national security.

Calling on the administration to repel “unconstitutional” state attempts to impede interstate commerce, the letter stated inconsistent, overlapping or conflicting state laws can grind economically critical maritime commerce to a halt.

MTS Advisory Committee
The U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee is set to meet September 12-13 in Washington, D.C., to discuss recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Open to the public, the meetings will begin at 1 p.m. on September 12 and 9:30 a.m. on September 13.

They will be held in the DOT Conference Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590.
For additional information, contact Amanda Rutherford at 202-366-1332.

Environmental Advisory Board
The Chief of Engineers Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) is scheduled to meet September 21 in New York to offer advice on environmental policy and discuss issues such as regional strategic planning, inland regional sediment management and environmental metrics used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Open to the public, the meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green, New York, N.Y. 10004.
For additional information, contact Mindy Simmons at 202-761-4127.