Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Waterways Leaders Criticize Trump Budget Proposal

Washington, D.C.—Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, said he will not hold a hearing on President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal, and predicted no cuts will occur while members of the waterways industry aimed unusually harsh criticism at the budget’s requests for no trust funds for ongoing inland navigation projects, a new user fee and elimination of port-related programs.

“Where is the shame?” Waterways Council Inc. President and CEO Mike Toohey asked, adding that no president has ever proposed zero infrastructure investment.

“Are we to lay off the workers constructing the projects now underway? Where is the 29-cents-per-gallon that users pay going, while the administration seeks $180 million in additional annual fees with no plans to spend it?”

If left to stand, Toohey said, Trump’s proposal would gut the waterways as a viable transportation option for our nation’s family farmers and other shippers of key commodities.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) registered “strong concerns” over the elimination of port-related programs.

Those included the Department of Transportation’s Port Intermodal Infrastructure Program, which by the end of the fiscal year is expected to award more than $500 million in grants to improve safety, efficiency and reliability of multimodal movement through the nation’s seaports; and the Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grants Program, which Congress funded at $100 million.

“We live in an interconnected world, and overseas trade, 99 percent of which moves through ports, is absolutely vital to our economy,” AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor said.

“AAPA will be working with Congress on behalf of its members to meet and exceed FY20 appropriation levels for fiscal 2021 funding of all port-related federal programs.”

The office of the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works offered assurances  the administration understands the importance of inland navigation, pointing to the “significant investments” in both capital projects and operation and maintenance costs.

“The Corps of Engineers 2020 work plan includes more than $330 million in funding for capital investments and more than $800 million in funding for operation and maintenance costs,” it stated.

“The 2021 budget includes more than $700 million in funding for operation and maintenance costs among other important investments.”

With respect to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the current excise tax on diesel fuel used in inland waterways commerce will not produce the revenue needed to cover the users’ share of future capital investments in these waterways.

“The user fee proposed in the budget would support infrastructure investment and economic growth by helping finance the users’ share of future capital investments, as well as 10 percent of the operation and maintenance cost, in these waterways,” the statement added.

“Though the budget does not propose any projects requiring funds from the IWTF, the user fee is necessary to help finance the users’ share of anticipated capital investments over the next 10–15 years.”

In his statement, Toohey expressed hope Trump’s budget proposal will be considered dead on arrival in Congress.

“I will offer to members of the House and Senate to provide the shovel and the preacher,” he said.

For different reasons, Enzi and Toohey ended up on the same page.

“I am not going to hold a hearing on this president’s budget,” Enzi said in floor remarks, recalling he didn’t hold a hearing on President Barack Obama’s last budget.

He said members of Congress have never paid attention to any president’s budget in his 23 years in office and, given the divided Congress, called on the two parties to work together to produce a “responsible budget.”

“From history, I can assure you cuts will not be made,” Enzi said.

Users Board To Meet

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to meet February 19 in Fort Smith, Ark.

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 8 a.m. at the Fort Smith Convention Center, 55 S. 7th St., Fort Smith, Ark. 72901.

Items on the agenda include status reports of fiscal year 2020 funding for inland and coastal navigation; the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) and project updates; construction activities for the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project; the Monongahela River Locks and Dams 2, 3, and 4 Project; the Chickamauga Lock Project and the Kentucky Lock Project; inland waterways Capital Investment Strategy development; the Three Rivers, Ark., Project; and the Calcasieu Lock Project, and a briefing on “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Economics 101,”  developing benefit-cost ratios and the district reorganization for the Illinois Waterway.

For additional information, contact Mark Pointon at 703-428-6438.

Hemp And CBD

The Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Advisory to ensure mariners, marine employers and sponsoring organizations realize a positive drug test could be caused by products marketed as hemp or cannabidiol (CBD) that may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant.

“An individual who fails a chemical test for dangerous drugs must be removed from duties directly affecting the safe operation of the vessel, and is subject to suspension and revocation proceedings against his or her credential,” the advisory stated.

“Use of hemp or CBD products is not accepted as an affirmative defense (acceptable excuse) against a THC-positive drug test result.”

It went on to advise mariners to exercise extreme caution when considering the use of any hemp or CBD product because such use could result in the loss of their merchant mariner credential and immediate removal from safety sensitive duties aboard a vessel.

This warning applies to hemp and CBD products in any form, including those that are taken by mouth and those that are applied to the skin, the advisory stated.

For additional information, contact DAPI@uscg.mil.

NAVSAC Members Sought

The Coast Guard is requesting applications to serve on the National Navigation Safety Advisory Committee, which advises the Homeland Security secretary on matters such as maritime collisions, rammings, groundings, Inland Rules of the Road and navigation regulations.

Applications should reach the Coast Guard by April 13.

For additional information, contact George Detweiler at 202-372-1566.