Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Advances Bill To Fix Harbor Maintenance Tax

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House easily approved a bipartisan bill to ensure the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) is used for its intended purpose of maintaining federally authorized harbors.

Passed by a vote of 296 to 109, H.R. 2440, Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, now goes to the Senate.

It would provide roughly $34 billion over 10 years, which backers say would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge all federal harbors to their authorized widths and depths.

“Today was a win, years in the making, for our nation’s coastal communities, and members of the maritime workforce,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and sponsor of the measure.

DeFazio previously had recalled that similar legislative efforts had made it through the committee only to be derailed by the House Rules Committee.

Calling on swift action in the Senate, DeFazio said the bill will provide the funds needed to ensure ports and harbors are fully operational.

Top Republican members of the committee also praised House passage of the bill.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) expressed support for the bill and applauded DeFazio for advancing the bill and  embracing its goals of reforming the HMT.

“Passage of H.R. 2440 is a critical first step to solve the problems with the HMT,” said AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor.

AAPA also pointed to the anticipated release of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s initial HMT language in the coming weeks as it develops it Water Resources Development Act.

Chile Summit Canceled

An upcoming international summit in Chile, where President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were expected to meet and possibly sign a much-anticipated trade agreement, has been canceled reportedly because of unrelated street protests.

“As of now, it appears APEC will not occur in Chile, and it’s our understanding the organization does not currently have a secondary site prepared,” White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said. “We’re awaiting potential information regarding another location.”

APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) was scheduled to take place in November, and Gidley indicated the administration is hoping to keep to that schedule for completing Phase 1 of the agreement.

“We look forward to finalizing Phase 1 of the historic trade deal with China within the same time frame, and when we have an announcement, we’ll let you know.”

Several days earlier, the president told reporters that Phase 1 was “a little bit ahead of schedule,” and he was looking forward to signing “a very big portion of the China deal.”

“Probably, we’ll sign it,” he said, adding Phase 1 would cover areas such as agriculture and banking.

Phase 1 of the trade agreement was the product of a months-long negotiations between the U.S. and China, and many U.S. businesses were hoping the pact would bring an end to the ongoing tariff war between the two economic giants.

Appropriations Minibus

On the fiscal year 2020 appropriations front, the Senate moved closer to getting its first minibus funding bill off the floor even as major issues remain unresolved.

“I believe there was a meeting (Tuesday), and I think some progress was made,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“Let’s continue moving in that direction.”

Funding for transportation programs, including the Maritime Administration, is in the bill, which is expected to be first up for a floor vote.

Despite such hopeful signs, it appears another stopgap measure to keep the government funded beyond November 21, when the current continuing resolution expires, will be needed.

Meanwhile, over on the House side, a resolution on moving forward with an impeachment inquiry of President Trump advanced with a floor vote Thursday.

Jones Act Attack

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) described a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announcement impacting the application of the Jones Act to offshore oil and gas production as another attack on the decades-old maritime law.

“To be clear, any administrative action or determination that serves to weaken the Jones Act is unacceptable,” DeFazio said.

“As I continue to work through the “Customs Bulletin Notice” to understand the full scope of its effect on the Jones Act, I urge CBP to reconsider any ruling that undermines the American shipping industry.”

CBP did not respond to a request for comment.

Others are tracking the matter that focuses on technical definitions of terms such as vessel equipment and merchandise. Comments must be received by November 22.

MACOSH Meeting Set

The Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) workgroups and full committee are scheduled to meet  November 19 and 20 in Washington, D.C.

Open to the public, the meetings will begin at 9 a.m. in Conference Rooms N4437A–D, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20210, with the workgroups meeting on November 19 and the full committee on November 20.

Agendas include an update and expansion of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training that pertains to maritime safety for the workgroups and updates on maritime enforcement activities from OSHA Regions for the full committee.

For additional information, contact Amy Wangdahl at 202-693-2066.

Great Lakes Pilotage

The U.S. Coast has proposed new base pilotage rates for the 2020 shipping season in accordance with the Great Lakes Pilotage Act of 1960 to account for changes in district operating expenses, an increase in the number of pilots and ant Guard icipated inflation.

“The net result of decreased operating expenses for the associations compared to the previous year, inflation of pilot compensation and the addition of one working pilot at the beginning of the 2020 shipping season is a 3 percent increase in pilotage rates,” the Guard stated in its Federal Register posting.

“In addition, the Coast Guard is not proposing any surcharges for the 2020 shipping season, which would result in a 1 percent net decrease in pilotage costs compared to the 2019 season, when combined with the changes above.”

A clarification of the rules related to the working capital fund also is to be covered by the proposed rulemaking.

Public comments must be received by November 29.

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