Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congressional Appropriators Reach Agreement On Spending

Washington, D.C.—Top congressional appropriators have reached a crucial agreement on spending levels for fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills, a major breakthrough that could boost their chances of avoiding yet another stopgap measure in several weeks to keep the government from shutting down.

Specific details on the spending limits were not made available, but the agreement included no preconditions on those allocations, which indicate negotiations on how to divvy up the funds among the various programs might be left mostly to appropriators.

Still, it was unclear what that approach will mean for funding a barrier President Donald Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That issue has been the other major stumbling block in keeping the current appropriations process on track.

Under a bill Trump signed into law late November 21, just hours before a shutdown deadline, government funding was extended through December 20.

Once again, that generated optimism for the upcoming talks.

“We’re ready for the negotiation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said as that bill headed toward final congressional approval and then on to the president’s desk.

“And hopefully it will take place expeditiously so that we can be finished by December 20.”

If those talks succeed, funding for the 12 appropriations bills and the entire government could be provided through the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

It also was unclear whether the 12 bills would remain in the so-called minibuses that have been used up to this point or whether they would be rolled into one massive omnibus bill.

Members of the waterways industry have been tracking a number of issues, such as funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and grant programs in the Department of Transportation, including the Maritime Administration.

USMCA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been insisting on beefed up provisions for American workers, drug prices and environmental standards in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA), said her Democratic caucus is “within range” of such necessary changes.

“Now we need to see our progress in writing from the trade representative for final review,” Pelosi said in press release.

Entitled “Statement on Progress on USMCA,” the statement echoed similar comments several days earlier at her weekly press conference.

At that event, she also made it clear the process cannot be rushed and stayed away from making any predictions on when a House vote could be scheduled.

“It would take time to write and then to bring to the floor,” Pelosi said.

President Trump and other top Republican leaders continue to press her on letting her chamber vote on the matter.

Trump said he wouldn’t blame Mexico or Canada if they decided to back out of the agreement.

“We’ll just blame Nancy,” he said.

EEZ Mapping

President Trump signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to develop a strategy to map the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as the Alaskan coastline to help advance maritime commerce, seafood production, homeland security and other activities.

Established by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 by a presidential proclamation, the U.S. EEZ includes more than 13,000 miles of coastline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean within the U.S. territorial jurisdiction.

 It is among the largest in the world and is larger than the combined land area of all 50 states, the memorandum stated.

Only 40 percent of the U.S. EEZ has been mapped and much of its natural resources and ocean systems have not been characterized. Areas especially lacking in completed mapping include Alaska and the Alaskan Arctic.

Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, Republicans Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, applauded Trump’s action.

“The is an important step for Alaska, especially for the Arctic as we are woefully behind in developing up-to-date maps for the region,” Murkowski said.

“The Arctic is crucial to our nation’s geopolitical, economic, and environmental well-being.”

Federal officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and Coast Guard leaders, have issued warnings about the activities of Russia and China in the Arctic.

New FMC Member

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Carl Whitney Bentzel of Maryland by a voice vote to be a member of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

Trump nominated Bentzel in June for a five-year term expiring June 30, 2024.

Bentzel has been providing consulting services on energy and transportation policy and projects at Bentzel Strategies, a firm that he established.

Previously he was vice president at the DCI Group and served as a senior counsel on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, where he worked on issues related to surface and maritime transportation.

Bentzel received a bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Alabama School of Law and Master of Laws from the Admiralty Law Institute, Tulane University.

He received the U.S. Coast Guard’s Medal for Meritorious Public Service for his work on legislation.

On the FMC, Bentzel will succeed Mario Cordero, who resigned in 2017 to become the executive director of the Port of Long Beach in California.

He will fill the last vacancy on the five-member commission.

SOLAS Compliance

The Office of Design and Engineering Standards announced the availability of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 03-19 that provides guidance to the maritime industry and Coast Guard personnel on how vessel owners and operators may comply with amendments to SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 3 and 20 that will take effect on January 1.

Entitled “Maintenance, Thorough Examination, Operational Testing, Overhaul and Repair of Lifeboats and Rescue Boats, Launching Appliances and Release Gear, NVIC 03-19 supersedes and cancels NVIC 04-07.

It also provides guidance on IMO Resolution MSC.402(96), “Requirements For Maintenance, Thorough Examination, Operational Testing, Overhaul And Repair Of Lifeboats And Rescue Boats, Launching Appliances And Release Gear.”

For additional information, contact the Coast Guard’s Lifesaving and Fire Safety Division at typeapproval@uscg.mil.

PFD Standards

The Coast Guard is finalizing a policy harmonizing personal flotation device (PFD) standards between the United States and Canada to allow PFD  manufacturers to meet a single North American standard instead of separate standards for the two countries.

Intended to promote the Coast Guard’s maritime safety and stewardship missions, the Coast Guard explained, the change does not affect existing PFD approvals and does not require any action on the part of boaters or mariners who have approved PFDs on board.

Documents related to the notice, including public comments, can be viewed at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Jacqueline Yurkovich at 202-372-1389.

Sulfur Limit Meeting

The Coast Guard has scheduled a meeting on December 5 to review the MARPOL Annex VI provisions for implementing the global 0.5 percent sulfur limit and associated guidance developed through the International Maritime Organization.

Open to the public, the meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. EST in Room 3, Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, D.C.

For additional information, contact Wayne Lundy at 202-372-1379.

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