Washington, D.C.—A much-anticipated hearing by a key House committee that helps control the fate of any congressional infrastructure package displayed the bipartisan interest that the topic generates in Congress these days, but at the same time revealed just how far apart lawmakers remain when it comes to funding it.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, opened the four-hour hearing by suggesting “something really big” could happen on infrastructure this year.
But Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the panel’s ranking member, used his opening statement to draw a line against any effort to ask local businesses and corporations to pay more or to slow down the nation’s economy, specifically in areas such as wage growth.
Witnesses included top officials of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, American Trucking Associations and American Society of Civil Engineers, who urged the committee to use the most obvious source of new revenue—the fuel tax—and add a nickel a year for the next four or five years to help pay for the kind of massive infrastructure package President Donald Trump insists he wants to sign even though he has yet to share his ideas for revenue.
Talk of turning to other revenue sources such as a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) approach generated less unity among the witnesses.
Lack of consensus among lawmakers may not be the only barrier such an effort faces.
Trump struck an ominous chord when asked by a reporter for a response to Democrats’ push to investigate issues involving his family.
“We have so many things, actually things we agreed on, like infrastructure,” he said. “But they want to focus on nonsense.”
Military Executive Order
President Trump signed an executive order to support the transition of active-duty service members and military veterans into the merchant marine.
Trump took that action to not only help veterans seamlessly transition into good-paying civilian jobs as mariners, but also boost the national and economic security, Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said during a press briefing.
Navarro said the executive order incentivizes the nation’s most experienced seaman to enter the U.S. merchant marine—referred to as the nation’s fourth arm of defense—by waiving licensing fees and by crediting military training in the National Maritime Center credentialing system.
He said the fees could rise to as much as $25,000.
“Currently, we face a shortfall of merchant mariners that may have serious national security implications,” Navarro said.
“The past several decades, the number of merchant mariners with unlimited ocean-going credentials who have sailed in the last 18 months has dropped below 12,000.”
He cited U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that warn the nation would fall short of the number of mariners needed if it entered into a large-scale conflict that required the military’s full mobilization.
The Transportation Institute released a report showing a 30 percent jump in domestic maritime job creation.
Crediting the impact of the Jones Act, the association’s report said the maritime industry now employs 650,000 people across all 50 states, contributing $154 billion to the nation’s annual economic growth.
James Henry, chairman and president of the Transportation Institute, said the new report, published by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the association, “shows the spectacular impact that our industry has on our nation’s overall well-being.”
“Needless to say, the report underscores just how indispensable the Jones Act continues to be for the security and prosperity of our entire country,” Henry said.
Jones Act Support
The Jones Act also received crucial support from key members of Congress.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), described the law as a critical component of U.S. maritime strategy during a hearing entitled “U.S. Maritime and Shipbuilding Industries: Strategies to Improve Regulation, Economic Opportunities, and Competiveness.”
Maloney serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, which held the hearing.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, told a hearing on “The State of the American Maritime Industry” that he and others on the panel recently sent a letter to President Trump to express support for the Jones Act and encourage the administration to convene a stakeholders meeting to discuss how the industry can meet new demands and serve new markets.
In testimony before Wicker’s committee, Austin Golding, president of Golding Barge Line in Vicksburg, Miss., said the Jones Act helps protect maritime jobs.
“Without the Jones Act, I can say with confidence I would not be sitting before you with a great story to tell,” Golding stated in his written testimony.
“Without the Jones Act, this country will be looking for foreign shipyards to build the vessels that protect not only the goods we produce but also our citizens themselves.”
Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of American Waterways Operators, also testified before the Senate panel, while Jennifer Carpenter, AWO’s executive vice president and COO, appeared before the House subcommittee.
Both Allegretti and Carpenter used their testimony to highlight the Jones Act as one of the pillars vital to the tugboat, towboat and barge industry.
In its latest mitigation effort following the recent partial government shutdown, the National Maritime Center (NMC) announced Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) and Medical Certifications (national endorsements only) with expiration dates between December 2018 and April 2019 are extended as valid until May 31, 2019.
Mariners who are actively working on expired credentials that meet the expiration criteria must carry the expired credential with a copy of a letter posted on the NMC website.
The following items that expired in December 2018, January 2019, or February 2019 are extended to April 30, 2019: Additional Information (AI) letters, Qualified Assessor (QA) letters, Designated Examiner (DE) letters, Proctor approval letters, Approval to Test (ATT) letters, and mariner training course certificates.
For mariners whose 90-day testing cycles were interrupted by Regional Exam Center (REC) closures (starting on December 26, 2018), the days the RECs were closed will not count against the 90-day period, the NMC explained.
For additional information, contact the NMC Customer Service Center by calling 888-427-5662.
Marine Highway Projects
Open season for Marine Highway Project Designation submissions has been extended to January 31, 2022 by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration.
DOT also scheduled six additional project review sessions with qualified projects announced shortly after each session.
Originally announced in 2014, the scope of the Marine Highway Program has been expanded to encompass all of the U.S. domestic marine transportation system.
Previously, the program included only waterways that paralleled landside transportation routes.
“Being designated a Marine Highway Project allows the Department of Transportation resources to be used to assist public project sponsors, ports, and other local transportation or economic development agencies in the development of their Marine Highway Projects,” DOT stated in its Federal Register notice.
For additional information, contact Timothy Pickering at 202-366-0704.
Old NPRMs Withdrawn
The Coast Guard announced it has withdrawn two notices of proposed rulemaking that date back nearly 20 years, explaining the proposed rules are no longer necessary because of the current state of spill response in the chemical industry.
Published on March 22, 1999, one proposed rule was entitled “Tank Vessel Response Plans for Hazardous Substances.”
The second proposed rule was published on March 31, 2000, and was entitled “Marine Transportation-Related Facility Response Plans for Hazardous Substances.”
Commissioner Rebecca Dye of the Federal Maritime Commission is set to begin the final phase of her investigation of the detention, demurrage and free time practices of ocean carriers and marine terminal operators.
Innovation teams of industry experts will meet no later than mid-April in Washington, D.C., the FMC stated.
Although those teams have been formed, Dye said she welcomes comments from all parties and they can contact Robert Blair, the commissioner’s counsel by email at RBlair@FMC.gov.
A final report on the innovations teams’ and Dye’s findings and possible recommendations is due no later than September 3.
After launching the investigation in March of 2018 as Fact Finding 28, Dye in April of 2018 issued an Information Demand on ocean carriers and marine terminal operators that provided the informational foundation of the investigation.