Washington, D.C.—A major water resources development bill sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives on a voice vote, providing yet another sign of its overwhelming support among lawmakers of both parties.
“This bill is good for our infrastructure, good for jobs and good for America,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who is retiring and clearly hopes to make passage of the measure part of his legacy.
“It invests in the ports, locks and dams, inland waterways, flood protection and other infrastructure that makes America more competitive and protects our communities, while building upon reforms to the Army Corps of Engineers to continue improving project delivery.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House panel, said the bill will help keep the U.S. competitive in the world economy and restore the nation’s coastal environment.
Mike Toohey, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc., emphasized that passage of the bill keeps a water resources development measure on a two-year cycle, a major goal of Shuster and other key supporters.
“With the dedication of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project last month, strong funding for the Corps in fiscal year 2019, and a potential final WRDA bill in 2018, the inland waterways’ many beneficiaries and the U.S. economy have much to celebrate,” Toohey said.
A product of negotiations between the House and Senate, the measure includes provisions from the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, which passed the House months ago, and the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which was held up in the Senate and never saw floor action.
It now awaits a final vote in the Senate.
Corps Funding Bill
Members of the waterways industry applauded easy congressional passage of the first “minibus” appropriations package for fiscal year 2019, citing its boost in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
With final approval coming from a House vote of 377 to 20, the measure headed to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
H.R. 5895 won the Senate’s approval earlier by a vote of 92 to 5.
In addition to the increase in funding for the Corps’ Civil Works program for the fourth consecutive year, Waterways Council Inc. specifically singled out the full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF).
Also retained in the final version, WCI added, was a provision to change the cost-share at Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River to 85 percent federal and 15 percent IWTF from the previous 50-50 level.
“This change will allow full work plan allocations to the top five IWTF-supported projects,” WCI said.
“Specific project funding amounts will be released 60 days after enactment of the bill by the Corps in its FY19 work plan.”
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) cited the $1.5 billion for work funded by the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which amounts to 91 percent of the estimated HMT revenues for fiscal year 2018.
“As such, the bill continues the trend of hitting or exceeding the HMT funding targets, set in WRDA 2014, for the fifth year in a row,” AAPA stated.
“The bill also increases funding amounts and allows new starts in both the Corps of Engineers’ investigations (studies) and construction accounts.” AAPA added the measure funds Donor and Energy Transfer ports at $50 million, the full amount authorized for the program and the amount the organization requested.
Keeping Government Open
Distancing itself from President Trump’s public stance, the Senate approved a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded and open for weeks beyond the November elections as part of a minibus appropriations package.
Congressional leaders reached that agreement even after President Trump left the door open for a government shutdown over funding for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
That minibus package, which provides funding for the Department of Defense, efforts against the opioid crisis and a number of other programs, now goes to the House for a final vote.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) welcomed the Senate vote of 93 to 7.
“These are top priorities for the country, and we are ready to get this bill into law soon,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, the White House remained noncommittal on the continuing resolution, which would keep open through December 7 the federal agencies not covered by one of the appropriations vehicles.
“We look forward to reviewing the bill when it’s released,” a White House press aide said.
AAPA Tariff Concern
AAPA continued to stress its concerns over the impact of U.S. trade tariffs as well as retaliatory responses after the Trump administration announced the imposition of levies on another $200 billion of Chinese imports, effective September 24.
“The impact of expanding Section 301 tariffs on cargo and equipment moving through American ports is already proving to be significant,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle, who testified recently during the U.S. Trade Representative’s hearing on the matter.
With the latest move, Nagle said, Section 301 tariffs on Chinese commodities and China’s retaliatory response cover about 10 percent of all trade that moves through U.S. ports by value.
At the same time, however, AAPA welcomed the removal of port cranes from the list, a move recommended at the recent hearing.
New Subcommittee Chairman
Freshman Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) took over as chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the last few months of the 115th Congress.
“The Coast Guard plays an essential role in maintaining the rule of law on our waterways, including securing our borders and enforcing marine pollution laws,” Mast said.
He also stressed the importance of maritime transportation and the Coast Guard to his home state.
Mast was elected to represent Florida’s 18th District in 2016.
He served in the Army for more than 12 years, and while deployed to Afghanistan as a bomb disposal expert, he lost both legs to an improvised explosive device.
Mast succeeds Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who was indicted on charges linked to campaign funds.
Ballast Water Report Changes
Certain vessels operating within a single Captain of the Port Zone no longer have to submit an Annual Ballast Water Summary Report for 2018.
That requirement was eliminated by the Coast Guard, with that change taking effect October 1.
“We view this current reporting requirement as unnecessary for us to analyze and understand ballast water management practices,” the Coast Guard stated in the Federal Register.
“This final rule will reduce the administrative burden on this regulated population of U.S. non-recreational vessels equipped with ballast tanks.”
For additional information, contact John Morris at 202- 372-1402.
Offshore Rule Withdrawn
Nearly 20 years after first proposing its Outer Continental Shelf Activities rule, the Coast Guard withdrew it as of September 19 because it is no longer relevant to the offshore industry.
“Due to the passage of time, advances in technology, and changes in industry practice, we found that much of what we proposed in the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] is now obsolete and no longer applicable to the modern OCS work environment,” the Coast Guard stated in the Federal Register.
“Consequently, the NPRM is no longer suitable as a basis for further rulemaking action.”
Published on December 7, 1999, the proposed rule focused on regulations pertaining to workplace safety and health on vessels and facilities engaged in exportation or production of minerals.
For additional information, contact Charles Rawson at 202-372-1390.