Washington Waves
Washington Waves

CBP Erodes Jones Act, Say Waterways Leaders

Washington, D.C. –-American Waterways Operators president and CEO Tom Allegretti said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has eroded the Jones Act and opened the door for foreign vessels to operate in coastwise trade.

Allegretti’s comments were prompted by CBP’s move to revoke so-called “letter rulings” and alter its interpretation of the decades-old maritime law.

A key part of that effort focused on the interpretation of terms such as “vessel equipment.”

February 17 is the effective date of the change, according to the CBP bulletin.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s decision to open the door for foreign vessels to operate in coastwise trade by engaging in lateral movements during lift operations is a highly unfortunate one that does not reflect the Trump Administration’s stated commitment to American jobs and American security,” Allegretti stated.

“This erosion of the Jones Act disregards not only the criticality of American maritime to the nation, but also the longstanding support for the Jones Act on Capitol Hill, as expressed most recently in a bipartisan letter signed by fifty-five members of Congress urging CBP not to go down this path.”

Posted on the website of the Offshore Marine Service Association, the December 16 letter included signatures from members of Congress representing various regions of the country.

It went to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and urged the administration not to take any steps to weaken the Jones Act and create non-statutory loopholes.
“CBP does not have the authority to issue definitions that contradict the law,” the letter states.

Funding Bill

President Donald Trump officially brought to an end a beleaguered fiscal year 2020 appropriations cycle by signing two bills that made up a $1.4-trillion agreement on keeping the government funded through September 30 but served notice his administration would not accept restrictions on its authority to oversee the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In his statement on signing H.R. 1158, the president singled out wording to bar the Office of Management and Budget from altering the Corps’ annual work plan or determining if water resource projects and study reports complied with federal laws.

His statement cited his authority to supervise executive agencies, adding any legislation to impede that process violates separation of powers.

With the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal year 2020 appropriations over, members of the waterways industry continued to praise what they saw as a boost for water projects.

After the Senate voted to join the House in passing the spending legislation, the Waterways Council Inc., pointed to the increase in funding for the Corps and the cost-sharing adjustment for Chickamauga Lock from 50-50 to 65 percent general revenue and 35 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF).

WCI President and CEO Mike Toohey expressed gratitude to key appropriators for the “critical cost-share change.”

Defense Authorization Act

President Trump signed a National Defense Authorization Act that included provisions affecting the maritime industry.

In addition to previously discussed provisions on the port and small shipyard grant programs, the bill calls for an audit of the Maritime Administration’s actions to address recommendations in a 2017 report. The report recommended communicating with stakeholders on a process of determining crew size and composition to meet sealift needs, working with Coast Guard and other stakeholders on updating the Merchant Mariners licensing and documentation system and coordinating with the military services to determine a training system for end-of-service sailors and officers to earn their Merchant Mariner Credentials.

AAPA Welcomes Trade Pact

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) welcomed a long-awaited House vote approving the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA), calling it a crucial step for ports in all three countries.
Passed easily in the House by a vote of 385 to 41, USMCA now moves to the Senate, which is expected to take it up in the coming weeks.

“North American ports stand to benefit significantly from the increase in trade and travel between our three nations, and the certainty that the movement of goods and people won’t be hampered by unanticipated trade restrictions or tariffs,” AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor said.

Connor said USMCA modernizes and addresses tariff schedules, commodity regulation, goods standards, manufacturing regional content requirements, digital trade and labor standards.

NTSB Members Confirmed

The Senate confirmed by a voice vote Michael Graham of Kansas and Thomas Chapman of Maryland to be members of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Graham was confirmed for two terms, one expiring December 31, 2020 and the second expiring December 31, 2025.

Chapman was confirmed for a term expiring December 31, 2023.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it will begin posting volunteer opportunities to only one website, www.volunteer.gov, on January 1.

The agency said its Volunteer Clearinghouse website will no longer be operational.

“The volunteer.gov website provides enhanced cyber security, modern collection and management of volunteer data, and first-rate engagement with volunteers,” said Heather Burke, the agency’s national partnership and volunteer program manager.

Burke encouraged the public to apply for volunteer opportunities at recreation areas and facilities via the www.volunteer.gov website.

For more information, call toll free at 1-800-865-8337.

Non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOCCs) now need their required bond, insurance or other form of surety and their Form FMC-1 (published tariff location) on file before the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) will issue their NVOCC license.

That change by the FMC was one of several included in a Final Rule, “Licensing, Registration, Financial Responsibility Requirements, and General Duties for Ocean Transportation Intermediaries” (Docket No 18-11) that took effect December 16.

Shipping Petition

In response to Petition No. P3-18 filed by the World Shipping Council, the Federal Maritime Commission issued an order granting the organization an exemption from the requirement to publish the essential terms of service contracts but denying its request to be exempted from the requirement to file service contracts with the FMC.

In accordance with her vote in September when the FMC voted to proceed with the Order, Commissioner Rebecca Dye dissented, stating she would have granted the petition in its entirety.

A proposed rule will be issued for comment in 2020.

Coast Guard Prepares For IMO Meeting

The Coast Guard will lead a meeting held by the Department of State in Washington, D.C. to prepare for the seventh session of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC 7) February 3-7 in London.

Open to the public, the meeting will begin at 1 p.m. January 21 at the Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building at St. Elizabeth’s, 2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20593.