Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Washington Waves: January 7, 2019

Washington, D.C.—So far, the waterways industry has avoided major impacts from the partial government shutdown despite funding lapses at the key departments of Transportation and Homeland Security.

“The inland waterways transportation system is, thankfully, not impacted by the federal government shutdown, as the Army Corps of Engineers was fully funded in the FY19 minibus package,” Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc., said of the bill President Donald Trump signed into law last year.

Aaron Ellis, public affairs director of the American Association of Port Authorities, offered similar comments.

“Reported impacts on AAPA member ports in the U.S. have been minimal,” Ellis said.

He cited news coverage about closings and staff shortages at agencies such as the Federal Maritime Commission and the U.S. Department of State and unavailability of information about grant programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes the Maritime Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Otherwise, it appears that cargo and passengers are being processed more or less as expected by federal government agencies, since these services are considered “essential,’” Ellis said.

With no end in sight of the current impasse, however, an article by David Salkeld, counsel at Arent Fox of Washington, D.C., grabbed the attention of some.

Salkeld wrote in “What the Government Shutdown Means for Imports” that other agencies besides the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have their import monitoring and documentation processing operations affected.

“In fact, a shutdown of these activities could lead to cargo processing delays, as these agencies have ‘release and hold’ authority over shipments independent of CBP,” he stated.

“CBP may use its discretion to process some cargo in the interim.”

The National Maritime Center, a part of the U.S. Coast Guard, announced that it and all Regional Exam Centers are closed due to the partial shutdown with customer walk-in service suspended, examinations and other REC appointments canceled and REC appointment calendars closed.

The Customer Service Center call center at 1-888-427-5662 remained open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.

Applications or mariner training provider documentation can be emailed or mailed for processing after the shutdown ends, NMC said.

Now in its second week, the current shutdown has a way to go before it will set a record.

According to Congressional Research Service, the longest shutdown ran 21 full days from late 1995 into early 1996.

Drug Testing Rate Increased

The U.S. Coast Guard announced it increased the minimum random drug testing rate for 2019 to 50 percent of covered crewmembers.

In its notice, the Coast Guard explained the boost in the testing rate resulted from Management Information System (MIS) data for the most recent reporting year indicating a positive rate of more than 1 percent, which triggered a federal requirement that took effect January 1.

“The purpose of setting a minimum random drug testing rate is to promote maritime safety by establishing an effective deterrent to drug misuse within the maritime workforce,” the Coast Guard stated.

“Intoxicated operations pose a serious threat to life, property and the environment in the maritime commons.”

DERA Grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requesting applications for roughly $40 million in Diesel Emission Reduction Program (DERA) grant funding.

Port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality qualify as eligible applicants along with regional, state, local or tribal agencies.

“By financially supporting projects that upgrade aging diesel engines, EPA is helping improve their efficiency and reduce air pollution throughout the nation,” acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

Diesel-powered engines move approximately 90 percent of the nation’s freight tonnage, and today nearly all highway freight trucks, locomotives, and commercial marine vessels are powered by diesel engines, EPA said.

The American Association of Port Authorities promoted the DERA funding opportunity, citing EPA’s informational webinars set for 3 p.m. EST January 8 and 2 p.m. January 9 EST.

Call-in number 202-991-0477 and access code 414-9804# work for both webinars.

Deadline for applications is March 6.

Dredged Material Programs

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the selection of 10 pilot programs for beneficial use of dredged material.

Among 95 proposals received by the program required by the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, the 10 projects are located in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

They were selected “as having a high likelihood of delivering environmental, economic, and social benefits described in the proposals, and exhibit geographic diversity,” the Corps stated.

Projects covered by the announcement range from the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary in South Carolina to San Francisco Bay’s natural infrastructure.

For additional information, contact Joseph Wilson at 202-761-7697.

WOTUS Hearing

Agencies leading the Trump administration’s charge against the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule of 2015 scheduled a public hearing for January 23 in Kansas City, Kan., on a proposal to revise the definition of WOTUS and clarify the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., the hearing will be held in the Wyandotte Ballroom of the Reardon Convention Center, 520 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan. 66101.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the hearing will provide the public an opportunity to present data, views and information concerning the proposed rule.

Those unable to attend the hearing will be able to submit comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OW–2018–0149, to the federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Damaris Christensen at 202-566-2428 or Cindy Barger at 202-761-0038.

Arctic Coast Study

The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting an Alaskan Arctic Coast Port Access Route Study (AACPARS) on providing safe access routes for vessel traffic along the Arctic Coast of the U.S. to and from ports and transiting within  the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The information gathered during this AACPARS may result in the establishment of one or more vessel routing measures,” the Coast Guard stated.

Public comments, including those offered anonymously, must be submitted by September 1.

 For additional information, contact Lt. Cmdr. Michael Newell at 907-463-2263.