Washington, D.C.—As his administration sought another $250 billion to shore up a key part of an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, President Donald Trump continued to promote a huge infrastructure bill he wants to sign into law at some point.
“We’re going to do a big package on infrastructure fairly soon,” Trump told energy sector executives at a White House meeting.
At another recent briefing, the president indicated he would be open to using an infrastructure bill as a way to provide stimulus money to individual Americans.
“I like the concept of infrastructure. Our country has to be rebuilt,” Trump told reporters.
On a more immediate front, top congressional Republicans quickly dropped their reluctance to passing another coronavirus relief measure so soon after the massive $2 trillion bill became law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had both wanted to give that historic package time to kick in before taking up another bill, changed their approach and embraced Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s $250-billion request to keep the Paycheck Protection Program from running out of money just days after it was launched to help small businesses save jobs.
It quickly became unclear whether the standalone bill McConnell wants could be rushed through both houses of Congress on a unanimous consent motion or a voice vote, which would be necessary since rank-and-file members are still away.
Top Democrats were pushing for additional provisions they viewed as vital to the effort to help U.S. businesses and workers recover from the coronavirus crisis.
Jones Act Waiver Derailed
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter credited an “overwhelming response” from AWO members in derailing an expected request for a Jones Act waiver at the recent White House meeting with President Trump and leading energy sector executives.
“This is a win in which you can take pride,” Carpenter stated in an alert to AWO members.
“Once again, we have demonstrated to the administration and Congress that the maritime industry can and will mobilize quickly and effectively in defense of the Jones Act. Our hard work continues to reinforce to our opponents that any effort to undermine the Jones Act is a political liability.”
In a pre-emptive strike to the meeting, a letter signed by more than 230 maritime industry leaders was sent to the president suggesting he might receive a request to waive the Jones Act, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 that bars use of foreign-flagged vessels to transport goods between U.S. ports.
“We write to strongly oppose any Jones Act waiver,” the letter stated.
“The American domestic maritime industry produces 650,000 jobs nationwide that have been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce.”
Citing the reduction in driving and flying by Americans, demand for petroleum products and need to ship those products, the letter described a Jones Act waiver as “unnecessary and contrary to our collective need to come together as a nation to fight this virus.”
“Waiving the Jones Act means outsourcing American maritime jobs to foreign shipping companies that do not pay U.S. taxes,” the letter stated.
“Those foreign ships would displace modern American vessels made in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Wisconsin, California, Florida and elsewhere in America. They would send American mariners home at a time when they most need the work.”
Also weighing in on the matter was a bipartisan group of top members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“We should not risk the jobs of those U.S. workers who move 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade and 100 percent of our coastwise trade,” the congressmen stated.
Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, led that effort along with Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the subcommittee’s ranking member.
TWIC And COVID-19
The Coast Guard published Marine Safety Information Bulletin 13-20 to provide clarification regarding Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) operations and temporary exemptions during the on-going COVID-19 emergency.
While federal regulations remain in force with maritime operators expected to comply, the bulletin stated, the Coast Guard will exercise flexibility to prevent undue delays on the Marine Transportation System when those regulations cannot reasonably be met.
Additional information on the bulletin has been posted at mariners.coastguard.blog.
New Training Ship
The Maritime Administration (MarAd) announced that TOTE Services has selected Philly Shipyard Inc., of Philadelphia, Pa., to construct the newest class of training ship, the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV), to provide world-class maritime training for America’s future mariners.
According to MarAd, the shipyard will build up to five new ships that will support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in addition to the training mission.
“This new world class vessel, constructed at an American shipyard, is part of our much-needed program to replace the aging training vessels currently operated by state maritime academies,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.
MarAd Administrator Mark Buzby said investing in maritime education creates more American jobs.
“By the selection of Philly Shipyard Inc. as the construction shipyard for the NSMV, this effort is not only bolstering the U.S. Merchant Marine, but the U.S. economy and vital transportation infrastructure as well,” Buzby said.
MarAd said the NSMV will help to sustain world-class, U.S. maritime training operations at the state maritime academies by equipping young American mariners with the most modern and adaptable training platform.
The NSMV will feature numerous instructional spaces and a full training bridge and have space for up to 600 cadets to train in a first-rate maritime academic environment at sea, the agency said.
TOTE Services contracted with MarAd in 2019 as the Vessel Construction Manager to deliver one to five NSMVs.
University Transportation Centers
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking applications from institutions of higher education for four new Tier 1 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) with total awards of $4.9 million.
DOT said it intends to fund UTCs in Highly Automated Transportation Systems Research; Communications Technology and E-Commerce Effects on Travel Demand; Implications of Accessible Automated Vehicles and Mobility Services for People with Disabilities; and Strategic Implications of Changing Public Transportation Travel Trends.
“Our University Transportation Centers are not only the seeds of our future transportation system, they serve as living labs, bringing research to reality,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Diana Furchtgott-Roth said.
The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is available at www.grants.gov.
For more information, contact Nancy Wilochka at 202-366-5128.