Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Committee Advances Harbor Maintenance Bill

Washington, D.C.—A key House committee approved a bipartisan bill its sponsors say will unlock billions of tax dollars in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and invest in the nation’s ports and harbors.

“For years—during Republican and Democratic administrations alike—the harbor maintenance tax has been diverted from its intended purpose, which is to ensure our nation’s ports and harbors are properly dredged and fully operational,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“It’s past time we put those taxes back into much-needed improvements.”

DeFazio said his bill will make roughly $34 billion available over the next decade for harbor maintenance.

He recalled previous committee votes to advance such legislation in past congresses only to be derailed by the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee, a fate the current bill should avoid with Democrats now in control of the chamber.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, echoed DeFazio’s comments.

Although approved by a voice vote, H.R. 2440, Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, generated at least minor opposition.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the bill fiscally irresponsible given the size of the national debt.

Pointing to the other accounts that fall into similar situations as the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, Meadows urged his fellow lawmakers to look for other ways to achieve their goal other than abolishing spending caps.

China Trade Talks

Trade talks between the U.S. and China abruptly jumped the track they had been on, but President Donald Trump’s tweets indicate he will not be rushed to get the momentum back.

“China has just informed us that they (Vice-Premier) are now coming to the U.S. to make a deal,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

“We’ll see, but I am very happy with over $100 billion a year in tariffs filling U.S. coffers … great for U.S., not good for China.”

In another tweet, the president blamed the setback on China’s hope it will be able to negotiate with one of the “weak Democrats” running for president and continue to rip off the U.S.

Meanwhile, Trump’s stance drew bipartisan support.

“We have to be strong with them,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters, accusing China of stealing trillions of dollars and millions of jobs from the U.S. over recent decades.

“Anytime they detect weakness, they take advantage. So, I believe we ought to hang tough. There ought to be no rush to sign something that’s just a photo-op.”

 Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, the vice-chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, also called for the U.S. to keep the pressure on China to complete the trade deal.

NMC Backlog

Still dealing with fallout from the partial government shutdown and lapse in funding, the National Maritime Center (NMC) announced that Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) and medical certificates (national endorsements only) that expire in December 2018, January 2019, February 2019, March 2019, April 2019, May 2019 or June 2019 are extended as valid until July 31.

The NMC stated that mariners actively working on expired credentials that meet the expiration criteria must carry their expired credential with a copy of a letter posted on the agency’s website.

It also explained the extension does not change the time frame for renewing a credential.

“A credential may be renewed at any time during its validity and for 1 year after expiration based on the expiration date printed on the credential,” the NMC stated.

For additional information, contact the NMC Customer Service Center at 1-888-427-5662.

Nonfederal Project Sponsors

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued implementation guidance for Section 1043(b) of the 2014 water resources development law on establishing a pilot program to evaluate cost-effectiveness and delivery efficiency of allowing nonfederal sponsors to carry out authorized projects.

According to a Corps memorandum, the intent of the pilot program is to identify alternatives that would reduce the backlog of authorized projects.

Those covered by the program include flood risk management, coastal harbor and channel inland navigation and hurricane and storm damage reduction.

Currently, authorization of pilot program ends on June 10, five years after WRRDA 2014 was enacted.

“To date, two projects have been identified for implementation,” the memo states, adding, further guidance for the selection and implementation of additional projects if Congress extends that authorization.

Efforts to extend that provision already are underway, the National Waterways Conference said in a news alert issued to its members.

Users Board To Meet In Nola

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to meet May 23 in New Orleans, La.

 Open to the public, the meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at The Westin New Orleans Canal Place, 100 Rue Iberville.

Its agenda covers the status of funding for inland and coastal navigation; Inland Waterways Trust Fund project updates; construction activities for Olmsted Locks and Dam Project, Locks and Dams 2, 3, and 4 on the Monongahela River Project, the Chickamauga Lock Project and the Kentucky Lock Project; updates on the Upper Ohio River Navigation Study, the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway Navigation and Environmental Sustainability Project (NESP), the Calcasieu Lock study and results of simulations; and discussion of innovative design techniques and standardization of features for inland waterway projects.

For additional information, contact Mark Pointon at 703-428-6438.

MMC Processing

The National Maritime Center posted policy letter No. 01-19 that provides guidance for evaluating applications for national officer and rating endorsements to Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) and explains how applications submitted near the expiration of the transitional provisions on March 24 will be processed.

A rule published in 2013 included grandfathering provisions for mariners who began the service or training for their endorsement before March 24, 2014.

Under those grandfathering provisions, those mariners could qualify for the endorsement under regulations and policies existing before March 24, 2014, provided they apply for the endorsement before March 24, 2019.

Information on grandfathering provisions can be found in Enclosure (1) to Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 02-14, “Grandfathering and Transitional Provisions for Merchant Mariner Credentials.”

For additional information, contact the NMC Customer Service Center at 1-888-427-5662.

MACOSH Meeting Set

The recently renewed Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) and its workgroups are scheduled to meet June 5 and 6 in Washington, D.C.

On June 5, the committee meeting is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Conference Rooms S-4215A-C, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20210.

On June 6, the workgroups are set to meet 8:30 a.m. in Conference Rooms N-3437A-D.

On December 14, the Labor secretary announced MACOSH’s renewal with its charter expiring on December 14, 2020. On April 11, the secretary selected 15 members and a special agency liaison to serve on MACOSH.

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