Washington Waves

Congress Returns To Work: Appropriations On Tap

Washington, D.C.—Congress returned after a lengthy summer break and prepared to use a major budget agreement to wrap up work  on fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills that cover key issues important to the waterways industry.

Final budget figures for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies top that list of issues.

With the Senate playing catch up to the House, which moved ahead with its spending bills despite the lack of official figures that came with the budget agreement, several issues are not expected to be settled until the two chambers’ versions of the bills get into conference.

In a news alert, the National Waterways Conference (NWC) highlighted the House bill’s rejection of the administration’s proposed 30 percent cut for the Corps and its $350 million boost to the agency’s civil works program.

“It’s uncertain what the Republican-led Senate will do, both in terms of funding levels and addressing energy and water policy initiatives in the bill passed by the Democrat-led House,” stated the NWC, which also included the extension of the National Flood Insurance Program on its must-do agenda.

The American Association of Port Authorities singled out two issues and urged its members to weigh in immediately.

Those issues involve $300 million in Port Infrastructure Development grant funding AAPA wants to see in the spending bill for the Department of Transportation and $100 million for the Diesel Emission Reduction program grants in the bill funding the Department of Interior.

Top Senate leaders from both parties took turns calling for a successful appropriations process, and both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) conceded the need for a short-term stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded and open as it begins the new fiscal year on October 1.

Both men also expressed concerns that the process may be upended with McConnell pointing to Democrats’ interest in including so-called poison pill provisions in the spending bills and Schumer warning a Republican goal of adding more funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall would not fly with Democrats.

DERA  Passes In House

The House approved the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2019 (DERA) to reauthorize a grant program to help communities reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality and public health.

“Clean air and a clean environment are fundamental rights for every American,” said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), the bill’s lead sponsor, who cited the DERA program’s benefits as spelled out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent report to Congress.

Despite bipartisan support, the bill drew criticism for funding for what one opponent called questionable programs.

H.R. 1768 passed by a 295-114 vote and now goes to the Senate, where it again has bipartisan support from key members and a key committee already has acted on its own DERA provisions.

Medical Manual

The Coast Guard announced the availability of the Merchant Mariner Medical Manual, Commandant Instruction Manual (COMDTINST M16721.48).

Effective September 9, the guidance in the manual should assist medical practitioners, the maritime industry, individual mariners and Coast Guard personnel in evaluating a mariner applicant’s physical and medical status to meet the requirements of the merchant mariner medical certificate, the Coast Guard stated in its Federal Register notice.

For additional information, contact Adrienne Buggs, M.D., at 202-372- 2357.

Diesel Engine Regs

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed changes to a national marine diesel engine program to provide relief and address concerns associated with finding and installing certified Tier 4 marine diesel engines in certain high-speed commercial vessels.

According to EPA, the proposed relief will be in the form of additional lead time for qualifying engines and vessels.

 EPA also wants to make a technical correction to the diesel fuel regulations to allow fuel manufacturers and distributors to make distillate diesel fuel that complies with the global sulfur standard that applies internationally instead of the fuel standards that otherwise apply to distillate diesel fuel in the U.S.

Written comments must be received by October 21 but those on the information collection provisions are best assured of consideration if the Office of Management and Budget receives a copy by October 7, the agency stated.

A public hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. September 20 at the Maine Maritime Museum, 243 Washington St., Bath, Maine 04530.

For additional information, contact Alan Stout at 734-214-4805.

Tariff Talks

President Trump announced in a tweet that “as a gesture of good will” increased tariffs from 25 percent to 30 percent on $250 million worth of goods will be delayed from October 1 to October 15.

Trump cited a request from Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, his country’s lead trade negotiator, and “due to the fact that the People’s Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th Anniversary.”

Earlier, the president commented to reporters about the next round of trade talks between the two economic superpowers in Washington, D.C.

Those negotiations were expected to occur in September but now are scheduled for next month.

“They’re coming sometime in early October,” Trump said.

He also referenced China’s action to take tariffs off “a lot of things,” which he described both as a “gesture” and a “big move.”

As he usually does when talking about the trade war, the president also repeated his belief that China was ready to make a deal.

Initial confirmation about the next round of trade talks in October came from a report from China several days earlier.

Credential Verification

The Homeport Credential Verification Tool may not show the most current data due to technical difficulties, the National Maritime Center (NMC) explained on its website.

“While technicians work to resolve the issue, credentials may be verified by contacting the National Maritime Center at iasknmc@uscg.mil or 1-888-IASKNMC (domestic calls only),” the NMC stated.

“From outside the United States, use your country’s exit code and dial 1-304-433-3400.”

Demurrage And Detention

The Federal Maritime Commission adopted Commissioner Rebecca Dye’s recommendations to address detention and demurrage charge issues uncovered during her 18-month Fact Finding 28 investigation.

Dye submitted three proposals recommending the FMC publish an interpretive rule clarifying how it will assess the reasonableness of detention and demurrage practices, creation of a Shipper Advisory Board and continued support for the Supply Chain Innovation Team working to address chassis availability issues in Memphis, Tenn.

In the coming weeks, the FMC said it plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking outlining the rule on demurrage and detention and inviting public comment.

Information also is expected to be announced on the size of the Shipper Advisory Board, who may apply and how to express interest in serving.

“Our approach from the beginning has been to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. freight delivery system,” Dye said, citing support from colleagues and industry leaders.