Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Bill Would Increase Corps Spending

Washington, D.C.—Rejecting President Donald Trump’s request for budget cuts, a Democratic-controlled House subcommittee advanced a spending bill to hike funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the full House Committee on Appropriations.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, described the cuts sought by Trump as “drastic and short-sighted,” including a 31 percent decrease for the Corps.

Providing $7.36 billion for the Corps, the bill represents an increase of $357 million over the agency’s current fiscal year level and $2.5 billion above what was requested.

Kaptur said the bill also prohibits the diversion of previously approved Corps funding to help build a wall on the southern border.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the full committee, singled out the six new studies and six new construction projects for the Corps that will fund flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration.

“Robust increases are included for the Operation and Maintenance account as well as the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to ensure we are maintaining our nation’s ports and harbors,” Lowey said.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) welcomed the bill’s “record Corps funding” and highlighted its provisions on the Harbor Maintenance Tax.

“The House mark would bring HMTF spending to 95 percent of the estimated $1.782 billion FY 2019 HMTF revenues,” AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle said.

“We look forward to reaching 100 percent use of the revenues as well as the use of the over $9 billion surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.”

Members of the panel followed tradition by limiting debate and withholding amendments for full committee mark-up before approving the bill by a voice vote.

That approach mostly masked concerns expressed by key Republicans that the bill was being advanced without a crucial bipartisan budget.

Disaster Relief

By a bipartisan vote of 257 to 150, the House passed a long-awaited $19.1 billion supplemental disaster bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) served notice that a vote will be coming soon to his chamber.

“We are going to have a vote next week,” McConnell told reporters on May 14.

“I’m not going to send our members of either party home to these storm or flood-ravaged states without some action.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) agreed as he spoke of what he has seen first hand on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

“On the Missouri, clearly we have had flooding now every year since the 2004 Missouri River Management Plan,” Blunt said.

“It is time to look at that plan again, look at the priorities of the river and begin to make those priorities work for flood control and navigation to minimize as much flood damage as you can.”

Building on legislation passed by the House in January, prior to the more recent flooding in the Midwest, the bill has stalled, largely over disagreements between President Trump and Democrats over additional assistance for Puerto Rico.

MarAd Authorization

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the Maritime Administration Authorization and Enhancement Act, authorizing appropriations for MarAd for fiscal year 2020.

Advanced by a voice vote, S. 1439 includes a 10-year reauthorization of the Maritime Security Program, a cadre of U.S.-flagged commercial oceangoing ships critical for defense sealift operations; codifies the Trump administration’s military to mariner executive order into law, streamlining the transition of active duty and retired military into maritime jobs; includes the Port Operations, Research, and Technology (PORT) Act, authorizing grants for port and intermodal infrastructure projects; includes the Maritime SAFE Act to combat illegal fishing; authorizes increased funding for the Small Shipyard Grant program and full funding for the Title XI maritime guaranteed loan program to support the maritime industrial base; authorizes a program to support infrastructure development at the Department of Defense-designated Strategic Ports; and enacts reforms at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, including those on sexual harassment and assault prevention.

 “The Maritime Administration is critical to a strong economy in the United States,” committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said. “The language in this bill includes amendments offered by committee Republicans and Democrats and is an important step in maintaining the continued viability of the maritime industry and our nation’s security.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, said with 70 percent of purchasing power outside the U.S., improvement of port efficiency is imperative.

WCI Press Briefing

Mike Toohey, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), marked Infrastructure Week by delivering WCI’s annual press briefing that covered the critical role that inland waterways and their locks and dams play in the nation’s transportation system and its economy.

Toohey also laid out WCI’s recommendations ranging from no tolls or lockage fees on the inland waterways transportation system to directing $1.5 billion in annual hydropower generation revenue from the general treasury to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

Infrastructure Week Kickoff

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Infrastructure Week National Kickoff.

Hoyer spoke of the recent meeting at the White House with President Trump and top Democratic leaders in Congress that led to a $2 trillion price tag on the massive infrastructure package that members of both parties say they want to support this year.

Details on how to pay for such a huge undertaking were left to an upcoming meeting.

Hoyer made it clear Democrats expected Trump to take the lead.

“President Trump must lead as he promised to do in the 2016 campaign, in proposing ways to finance the $2 trillion investment he said he supports,” he said.

Trump traveled to Louisiana to promote energy infrastructure and a liquefied natural gas export terminal.

Marijuana Warning

The American Waterways Operators shared with its members a recent U.S. Coast Guard bulletin that stresses the incompatibility of marijuana use and sea service despite changes in state laws legalizing its use.

Issued by the Suspension & Revocation National Center of Expertise Staff, the bulletin reminds mariners that marijuana use remains criminal under federal law and testing positive for marijuana triggers serious consequences such as termination of employment and revocation of merchant mariner credentials.

It also explains that marijuana-derived products like Cannabidiol (CBD) can contain psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in sufficient amounts to result in a positive drug test.

Lakes Pilotage Rates

The U.S. Coast Guard announced a final rule in establishing Great Lakes pilotage rates and surcharges for the 2019 shipping season.

Effective June 10, the rule will adjust pilotage rates to account for a rolling 10-year average for traffic and result in an increase in pilotage rates due to an adjustment for anticipated inflation, changes in operating expenses, surcharges for applicant pilots and an addition of two pilots.

For additional information, contact Brian Rogers at 202-372-1535.

Rec Boat Fire Extinguishers

The U.S. Coast Guard proposed a rule change to relieve owners of recreational vessels from having to adhere to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire extinguisher inspection and maintenance and recordkeeping requirements intended for commercial vessels only.

Comments must be received by July 12.

“This would not alter fire extinguishing equipment standards for commercial vessels, but would correct an incongruity in our regulations,” the Coast Guard stated in the May 13 Federal Register.