Washington, D.C.—In a long-awaited breakthrough on trade, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a deal on the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, dubbed USMCA.
“This is a day we have all been working to and working for, on the path to yes,” said Pelosi, who had insisted along with other top Democrats on changes pertaining to enforcement for workers’ rights, the environment and prescription drugs.
Not only is the deal an improvement over the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), she said, but it is “infinitely better” than what was proposed by the Trump administration as a successor to that agreement, which dates back to the 1990s.
President Donald Trump, who has not held back in expressing his frustration at Pelosi’s approach on USMCA, called her announcement the “silver lining” to the Democrats’ efforts to impeach him.
“Because without the impeachment, they would have never approved it,” Trump said, adding the major trade agreement will be great for farmers, manufacturers, unions and others.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who also has been forceful in his criticism of the delay in scheduling a House vote on the agreement, also welcomed Pelosi’s announcement, but made it clear USMCA will not move in the Senate until after the expected impeachment trial has concluded, probably early next year.
A key senator said a major defense bill approved by the U.S. House after a lengthy impasse includes important provisions for the maritime economy.
According to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, those provisions would authorize $500 million for the Port and Intermodal Improvement Program; $40 million—a 14 percent hike—for the Small Shipyard Grant Program; a report on infrastructure needs for 17 strategic ports around the country; reauthorization of the Maritime Security Program; and codification of a program to help retiring and transitioning service members obtain mariner credentials.
Approved by a vote of 377 to 48, the National Defense Authorization Act now goes to the Senate.
The impasse that has kept it from advancing was broken after the White House and key lawmakers agreed to create a United States Space Force as a sixth branch of the nation’s military, a move promoted by President Donald Trump, and provide 12 weeks of paid family leave for all civilian federal employees.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of roughly $44 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grant funding for projects aimed at reducing emissions from the nation’s existing fleet of older diesel engines, including those in marine vessels.
“Modernizing our nation’s aging fleet of diesel-powered vehicles is an important part of the Trump administration’s plan to further reduce harmful emissions and guide counties and states from nonattainment into attainment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.
According to EPA, diesel-powered engines move approximately 90 percent of the nation’s freight tonnage, and today nearly all highway freight trucks, locomotives, and commercial marine vessels are powered by diesel engines.
The U.S. House passed by voice vote a bill directing the Department of Homeland Security to conduct an inland waterways threat analysis that considers security threats, challenges, mitigation efforts and vulnerabilities.
Sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), H.R. 4402, the Inland Waters Security Review Act, now heads to the Senate.
“Maritime security is a critical component of our nation’s homeland security,” Lesko said, adding that inland waterways are an important factor that must be considered as thorough security and threat assessments related to maritime security are conducted.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that as new threats to maritime transportation develop, it is important for the U.S. to be proactive rather than reactive to those threats.
Cleaner Marine Fuel
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is revising key regulatory text to ensure U.S. refiners and suppliers can distribute cleaner global mariner fuel for ships outside its Emission Control Areas (ECAs).
According to the agency, that change will aid a smooth implementation of the International Maritime Organization global marine fuel limit for sulfur (IMO 2020) that takes effect January 1
“These targeted regulatory corrections will clear the way for U.S. refiners to provide cleaner marine fuel for ships that sail across the globe,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
“Hitting this key deadline is vital to meeting the terms of this important treaty that protects air quality and human health both at home and abroad.”
Currently, the international sulfur content limit for fuel used outside ECAs is 35,000 parts per million (ppm.) and is decreasing to 5,000 ppm., a reduction expected to lead to significant health and welfare benefits globally.
At a committee hearing she led, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) welcomed a “consensus” that the economic impacts of IMO 2020 will be less than projected just one year ago.
“As the senator from the state that pays some of the highest prices for energy in the country, I have been paying very close attention to what IMO 2020 could mean for Alaskans—especially for those who live in rural and remote areas where shipping prices are already a cause of economic hardship,” said Murkowski, who serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Linda Capuano, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, testified that IMO 2020 is expected to put upward pressure of about $2 per barrel on light, sweet crude oil prices in 2020, which will moderate in the following years.
“However, the regulations will have a longer-term effect on petroleum supply, demand and trade flows,” Capuano said.
Arctic Maritime Transportation
Emerging opportunities for Arctic maritime transportation is the focus of a bill advanced by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
Approved by a voice vote, S.2786 would establish an advisory committee to provide recommendations to the transportation secretary on helping the U.S. take advantage of increasing shipping and maritime traffic in the Arctic.
“Warming temperatures and diminishing sea ice are opening up shipping routes and changing the scope of the Arctic,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the sponsor of the Arctic Shipping Federal Advisory Committee Act.
“It’s imperative that we are not left behind as nations such as Russia, China and many more are taking interest in the region.”
Supporters of the bill include Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Senate panel’s chairman and ranking member.
Rule On Rules
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced a final “rule on rules” codifying a series of reforms to the agency’s rulemaking, guidance and enforcement practices to enhance transparency and strengthen due process.
“When rules are outdated, duplicative, overly complex and contradictory, they harm the cause of safety and effectiveness,” Chao said.
According to her agency, it has saved $3.68 billion in regulatory costs to the economy and U.S. consumers since January 2017 and has far exceeded President Trump’s goal on deregulation that includes abolishing two regulations for every new one created.