Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Starts Work On FY 2020 Appropriations

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House began floor action on its first “minibus” spending bill of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations cycle that includes $7.36 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, an increase of $357 million above the 2019 amount and $2.5 billion over the amount requested by President Trump.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, said H.R. 2740 rejects Trump’s “drastic and short-sighted proposed cuts that would harm our nation’s interests.”

In her remarks, Kaptur singled out provisions for what she termed robust funding for the Soo Locks construction project and starting the path for the Brandon Road Lock invasive species control project.

Other divisions of the bill include funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense and State.

Lawmakers began working through a large number of amendments.

‘Probably Done’

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, hardly the biggest cheerleader for a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal discussed weeks ago by President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders, suggested that effort was over.

“It is probably done. I think infrastructure probably is,” Mulvaney said during an appearance at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit 2019.

He offered that negative assessment after being asked about the impact of the war of words that broke out between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after a White House meeting on infrastructure imploded last month.

Still, Mulvaney was much more upbeat about working with Democrats on other issues, such as an agreement on 2020 appropriations that will be needed to avoid choosing between a continuing resolution to keep agencies funded, a government shutdown and drastic budget cuts later this year, all unpopular options for legislative leaders.

Credentialing Changes

The U.S. Coast Guard announced revisions of its merchant mariner credentialing regulations to remove obsolete portions of the radar observer requirements and harmonize the radar observer endorsement with the merchant mariner credential.

Reducing unnecessary financial burden on mariners required to hold a radar observer endorsement, the Coast Guard stated, the revisions will affect mariners who have at least one year (360 days) of service on radar-equipped vessels in a position that routinely uses radar in the previous five years for navigation and collision avoidance purposes, or have taught a Coast Guard-approved or -accepted radar course at least twice within the past five years.

“These mariners will no longer be required to complete a Coast Guard-approved or -accepted radar refresher or recertification course in order to renew their radar observer endorsements,” the Coast Guard stated.

“We are retaining the existing requirements for mariners seeking an original radar observer endorsement and for mariners who do not have one year of routine relevant sea service on board radar-equipped vessels in the previous five years or have not taught a Coast Guard approved or accepted radar course at least twice within the past five years.”

Effective July 22, the final rule adopts, with modification, the notice of proposed rulemaking published on June 11, 2018.

Comments and related material identified by docket number USCG–2018–0100 can be viewed by using the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.

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

The National Maritime Center also posted Policy Letter 03-19 on its website providing guidance for renewal of endorsements as Radar Observer (Unlimited, Island and Rivers).

Mexico Trade

President Donald Trump took turns promoting his 11th hour agreement with Mexico that led to his indefinite suspension of tariffs on imports from that key trading partner, defending his use of tariffs to seal the deal, and teasing the press about a one-page secret part of the agreement that has some kind of 45-day option that only he controls.

“I actually think we have a much better relationship right now with Mexico because they respect us again,” Trump said as he praised Mexico for agreeing to take action to stem the flow of “illegal immigration” coming into the U.S.

“But you would never have had that deal if I didn’t impose the tariffs.”

In a visit to Iowa, he told farmers within two years they will be in “the best position that you’ve been in 15 years” because Mexico is going to be doing “a lot of buying.”

Republican lawmakers who had not hidden their distaste for Trump’s tariff threats welcomed the announcement.

“It is good news for Kentuckians and for all Americans that U.S. families won’t be hit with the price increases that would have resulted from new tariffs on imports from Mexico,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was less impressed, citing reports that Trump’s agreement with Mexico includes “warmed-up leftovers” that were negotiated months earlier.

Port Infrastructure Development

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Port Infrastructure Development Program by announcing a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to apply for $292.7 million in discretionary grant funding.

“This major investment in the Port Infrastructure Development Program will help strengthen, modernize and improve our country’s maritime systems and gateway ports,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

DOT explained grants will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects located either within or outside of the boundary of a coastal seaport and directly related to port operations or to an intermodal connection to a port.

Criteria to be used by the agency include leveraging federal funds, project costs and benefits, project outcomes, readiness, domestic preference and geographic diversity.

The minimum award size is $10 million with a federal cost share not to exceed 80 percent.

Of the $292.7 million made available for the new program, DOT stated, $92.7 million was included for the 15 coastal seaports that handled the greatest number of loaded foreign and domestic 20-foot equivalent units of containerized cargo in 2016.

The deadline for submitting an application is 8 p.m. EDT, September 22.

DOT has scheduled a series of webinars to provide assistance during the grant application process with details to be available at www.transportation.gov/portgrants.

WOTUS Hearing

A key Senate committee held its first hearing on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule since the Trump administration published its proposal to replace the controversial 2015 WOTUS rule put in place by the Obama administration

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the hearing was an opportunity to hear from stakeholders on not only what the previous administration got wrong on its 2015 rule but what the Trump administration can do to get it right.

“The administration needs to get this definition right,” Barrasso said after recalling the legislative and legal history of past “complex” WOTUS regulations.

Even supporters of the effort to replace the 2015 rule suggested changes for the administration’s proposed rule.

Todd Fornstrom, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation who also spoke on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, singled out several areas of the administration’s proposal such as improving the definition of “wetlands” and eliminating ditches as a standalone category of jurisdictional waters.

 North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring suggested more clarity on definitions of perennial and intermittent water flow.

An opponent of the Trump administration’s effort, Richard Elias, chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors in Arizona, said the new proposal would eliminate current protections in federal law, warning that not all states have the necessary laws in place to protect water quality.

Led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the current effort to replace the 2015 rule is expected to be completed later this year.

Maritime Heroes

The American Maritime Partnership (AMP) named U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and World War II merchant mariners as its first American Maritime Heroes as it kicks off a year-long celebration recognizing individuals and groups as part of the rich history of the U.S. as a maritime nation.

“We are proud to begin the campaign by honoring Sec. Elaine Chao, who is widely recognized as the best transportation secretary ever for the U.S. maritime industry and the nearly 250,000 World War II merchant mariners who provided the manpower to operate and maintain the wartime vessels that ultimately helped our country and our allies win World War II,” AMP Chairman Matt Woodruff said.

AMP encouraged other nominations to be submitted at AmericanMaritimeHeroes.com.