Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Trump Seeks To Make Regulatory Suspensions Permanent

Washington, D.C.—To help get the country reopened, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order instructing federal agencies “to waive, suspend, and eliminate unnecessary regulations that impede economic recovery.”

“I’m directing agencies to review the hundreds of regulations we’ve already suspended in response to the virus and make these suspensions permanent where possible,” the president said at a meeting of his Cabinet.

Citing his years-long effort to cut red tape, Trump singled out the impact at the Department of Transportation, where he said the timeline for getting a project approved has been reduced to two years, and he expressed confidence he could cut even that in half.

“It gives you tremendous power to cut regulation,” the president told Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as he signed the order.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) separately announced its “first-ever” proposed rule to improve transparency of its guidance documents.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal also will ensure his agency, historically one of the top sources of guidance documents, will not be creating new regulatory obligations. An unprecedented formal petition process for the public to use in requesting EPA to modify or even withdraw a guidance document will be another goal, the agency stated.

At a hearing in the Senate, EPA and Wheeler drew decidedly mixed reviews on the regulatory front.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, praised the agency for its recent efforts against the coronavirus as well as its success in replacing “punishing regulations” on the coal industry, farmers and ranchers.

Barrasso also put EPA’s work in replacing the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule at the top of his list.

Democrats on the panel criticized EPA for accelerating its deregulatory agenda during the pandemic that could end up making the health crisis worse.

Semonite Tour Extended

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, whose scheduled departure as commanding general and the 54th chief of engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had triggered praise for his service from key members of Congress, has had his tour of duty extended as the country continues to battle the COVID-19 virus.

Eugene Pawlik, a spokesman for the Corps, said the action was taken to provide continuity of command.

“No specific end date has been set for the extension,” Pawlik said, adding a change of command will be scheduled by Army leaders once the Senate confirms the 55th chief of engineers.

At a White House briefing last month, President Trump did not hold back when praising Semonite for doing a “fantastic job,” citing the work the Corps has done in providing hospital beds.

Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, currently Semonite’s deputy commander, has been nominated by Trump for the promotion. On March 12, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced Spellmon’s nomination to the full Senate, which has yet to act on it.

There was no response from the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the timing of that action.

Coronavirus Relief Bill

The U.S. House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package only to have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicate it could be weeks before his chamber will be ready to act.

Even then, McConnell made it clear the House bill remains a nonstarter.

“We still believe as far as the coronavirus we need to assess what we have already done, take a look at what works and what didn’t, and we’ll discuss the way forward in the next couple of weeks,” McConnell told reporters.

Citing what he called preliminary discussions about what comes next, he added that he was echoing comments coming from both President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who so far has served as the administration’s point man on negotiations with congressional Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), cited support the bill was generating from cities, counties and other local leaders needing help in dealing with the unexpected costs of fighting the coronavirus.

H.R. 6800 passed the House by a vote of 208 to 199 with 14 Democrats breaking with their leadership to oppose it.

MTS Committee

The Maritime Administration announced the U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee (MTSNAC) will meet June 3 online to discuss recommendations for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on issues related to the marine transportation system.

Open to the public, the webinar-based meeting is set to begin at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

MarAd said those requesting to speak during the public comment period must submit a written copy of their remarks to DOT by Wednesday, May 27, the same day the website link for the meeting is to be posted on the MTSNAC website at https://www.maritime.dot.gov/outreach/maritime-transportation-system-mts/maritime-transportation-systemnational-advisory-0.

For additional information, contact Amanda Rutherford at 202-366-1332.

Lakes Ballast Water Regs

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has ordered an investigation into allegations that Canada’s proposed ballast water regulations will discriminate against U.S.-flag vessel operators.

Those allegations came in a petition from the Lake Carrier’s Association (LCA), which the FMC voted unanimously to accept.

FMC Chairman Michael Khouri issued a statement citing the potential impact of the proposed regulations on U.S. shipping in the Great Lakes trade area.

For a number of years, the FMC has expressed concerns to Transport Canada about the proposed ballast water regulations and the effect they will have on the U.S.-flag Laker fleet.

“If the LCA petition allegations are substantiated through the commission investigation, then the commission will be in position to act expeditiously,” the FMC said in a statement announcing the investigation.

Additional details about the FMC action are expected to be provided in the Federal Register in the coming weeks.

Personnel Advisory Committee

The Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the National Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee, which advises the U.S. Homeland Security secretary on matters relating to personnel in the U.S. merchant marine, including the training, qualifications, certification, documentation and fitness of mariners.

Applications must be submitted by July 14.

For additional information, contact Megan Johns Henry at 202-372-2357.

Port Access Route Study

The Coast Guard has requested comments on a Port Access Route Study to determine whether existing or additional vessel routing measures are necessary along the seacoast of New Jersey and approaches to the Delaware Bay.

Factors such as planned or potential offshore development, current port capabilities and planned improvements, increased vessel traffic, existing and potential anchorage areas, changing vessel traffic patterns, weather conditions and navigational difficulty will be considered, according to the notice in the May 5 Federal Register.

Comments must be received on or before July 6.