Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Washington Waves: December 10, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Industry groups that depend on inland waterways welcomed the recent trade talks between the U.S. and China that appear to have put on hold additional tariff increases on Chinese products, along with other key developments, as negotiations continue.

“Not only do high import tariffs cost Americans more to purchase the things they need and want on a daily basis, reciprocal trade sanctions from our trading partners can increase the cost and thereby reduce demand for U.S. exports, such as agricultural products, vehicles, machinery and mineral fuels,” said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of American Association of Port Authorities.

As President Donald Trump prepared to meet with China President Xi Jinping at the recent G20 Summit in Argentina, AAPA joined more than 100 other members of the American for Free Trade coalition in calling for an end to the trade war between the two countries.

John Heisdorffer, president of the American Soybean Association, called the development the first positive news his group has heard after months of downturned prices and halted shipments.

“If this suspension of tariff increases leads to a longer-term agreement, it will be extremely positive for the soy industry,” Heisdorffer said, describing trade relations with China as essential to successful soybean exports for years.

Those comments came before uncertainty over details of the deal surfaced and even Trump, calling himself “Tariff Man,” began using his tweets to warn of more major tariffs if the deal falls apart.

Stopgap Appropriations

Congress on December 6 approved another stopgap spending measure to keep all federal agencies funded and avoid a partial government shutdown.

Approved without debate, the measure now goes to President Trump, who has indicated he will sign it.

It provides funding through December 21 for those agencies that have yet to receive their fiscal year 2019 appropriations.

After months of congratulating themselves for returning to regular order on appropriations, lawmakers were not able to keep to their self-imposed deadline of December 7 for funding the remaining quarter of the federal government as they joined the nation in mourning the loss of former President George H.W. Bush.

Still unsettled is how to get past a potential impasse over President Trump’s desire to get billions for building a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Results from the mid-term elections, which returned Democrats to power in the U.S. House of Representatives, have ramped up the pressure on the president’s request and probably made the current lame-duck session of Congress his last chance to get that funding until 2021.

Caught in the middle are agencies critical to the maritime industry such as the departments of Transportation and Homeland Security.

While operating on a continuing resolution keeps agencies open, that stopgap funding can hamper their effort by stalling new projects.

National Maritime Strategies

The Government Accountability Office issued another report recommending that Department of Transportation complete national maritime strategies mandated in 2014 by Congress on making U.S.-flag vessels more competitive in the international cargo market and ensuring the long-term viability of those vessels and U.S.-citizen mariners.

In its report, the GAO acknowledged the deadline for the strategies has been extended by law to February 2020, but also referenced an earlier report stating that DOT, by not completing work on the strategies, had not provided officials information needed to address challenges faced by the U.S. flag fleet.

“The Department of Defense (DOD) counts on U.S.-citizen mariners who work on U.S.-flag vessels to crew the government-owned reserve fleet during a crisis,” the GAO stated.

The watchdog agency also reported that DOT previously had agreed with its recommendations on completing the work.

CG Authorization

President Trump signed into law a Coast Guard authorization bill that includes long-sought provisions on regulating vessel incidental discharge and ballast water. 

Both the American Association of Port Authorities and The American Waterways Operators consider those provisions a major win that grew out of a lengthy coalition advocacy effort to reform overlapping and conflicting federal and state regulations.

AAPA said a strong ballast water management program will reduce the risk of invasive species in navigable waterways.

“The bipartisan legislation will give vessel owners and mariners the certainty of a nationally consistent regulatory system, while ensuring high standards of environmental protection,” the AWO Letter stated.

Under the new law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take the lead role in establishing standards for ballast water discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel while the Coast Guard will lead in monitoring and enforcing standards.

Pacific Coast ballast water exchanges will continue, the Great Lakes may set their own basin-wide standards and states will be permitted to establish no-discharge zones for areas that require additional protection under the law.

AWO singled out other provisions in S.140, the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, including language barring foreign ocean carrier alliances from negotiating jointly with American tugboat operators and eliminating a requirement for active mariners to take redundant radar refresher training.

Missouri River Recovery

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the availability of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the final Missouri River Recovery Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

After an assessment, the Corps has identified the action necessary to avoid a finding of jeopardy for several species as a result of the operation of the Missouri and Kansas River reservoir systems and the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project.

Copies of the ROD and other documents can be viewed at http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/mrrp/mgmtplan/.

ANS Task Force

The Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. on December 12 and 13 in Falls Church, Va. The task force is to implement a program to prevent aquatic invasive species in U.S. waters.

Open to the public, the meetings will be at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041.

For additional information, contact Susan Pasko at 703-358-2466.

MERPAC Nominations

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee.

Applications should be submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard by February 4.

The committee provides advice on matters relating to personnel in the U.S. merchant marine, including training, qualifications, certification, documentation, fitness standards and other matters assigned by the Coast Guard commandant.

For additional information, contact Davis Breyer at 202-372-1445.