Washington, D.C.—Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is working on legislation to give the Maritime Administration (MarAd) specific emergency authority to provide financial relief from the ongoing pandemic to each link in the maritime supply chain serving both the foreign and coastwise trades of the U.S.
“We must treat the totality of the industry, not just one segment,” DeFazio said during a hearing on the state of the maritime supply chain.
He referenced a recent briefing by MarAd Administrator Mark Buzby. “He painted a pretty grim picture of the conditions in the maritime industry, the loss of revenues and movement of freight supplies,” DeFazio said, adding the crisis has been felt up and down the supply chain at ports of all sizes and on both coasts.
“We have to take action.”
He said the hearing would be used to make the case for such a request and forward it to appropriators.
Both DeFazio and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee that held the hearing, spoke of the higher costs of doing nothing and allowing firms in the industry to go out of business.
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the panel’s ranking member, used his opening remarks to urge lawmakers to go beyond the impact of the pandemic and look at other issues such as industry consolidation, technological change and trade relations with China.
Witnesses at the hearing, which was held remotely, were Christopher Connor, president and CEO, American Association of Port Authorities; Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO, The American Waterways Operators; Lauren Brand, president, National Association of Waterfront Employers; Eric Ebeling, president and CEO, American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group on behalf of USA Maritime; and Michael Roberts, president, American Maritime Partnership.
All five gave a positive response when asked by Maloney if they support a dedicated maritime-specific assistance to address COVID-19. They used their testimony to lay out what Congress could do to address challenges of the maritime supply chain.
Those actions ranged from opposing calls to waive the Jones Act and boosting federal investment in locks, dams and harbor maintenance to providing liability relief to employers that make good-faith efforts to follow health guidelines as well as economic relief to protect facilities and workers.
Connor said AAPA urges Congress to include $1.5 billion in economic relief for the nation’s ports in the next coronavirus response bill. “This request is not about recovering lost revenue. It’s about ensuring that ports are able to make bond and other debt instrument payments and keep pace with the accelerating cost of protecting workers, and ultimately ensuring that America’s seaports and port workers maintain a state of readiness for the eventual economic recovery,” he said.
Others also spoke about providing relief for the industry.
Clean Water Act Enforcement
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule to speed up construction of energy projects across the U.S. by curbing states’ ability to use the Clean Water Act’s Section 401 certification process to look at issues beyond water quality.
Effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, the rule also specifies a one-year timeline for review and action on a certification request, reaffirms EPA’s statutory responsibility to provide assistance to any party involved in a Section 401 process and promotes early engagement among project supporters. “EPA is returning the Clean Water Act certification process under Section 401 to its original purpose, which is to review potential impacts that discharges from federally permitted projects may have on water resources, not to indefinitely delay or block critically important infrastructure,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.
“We are following through on President Trump’s executive order to curb abuses of the Clean Water Act that have held our nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage, and to put in place clear guidelines that finally give these projects a path forward.”
Republicans applauded EPA’s action.
“This rule will help ensure certain states can no longer abuse the water certification process for political purposes,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Barrasso has accused the state of Washington of hijacking the certification process to block Wyoming coal from being exported. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking member, said EPA’s rule will defy congressional intent and undermine states’ power to protect their water resources.
House Transportation Bill
Top Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled a nearly $500 billion, five-year transportation bill they said will not only authorize funding to tackle the backlog of projects but address the impact of climate change and boost public transit options.
With the current law expiring September 30, a mark-up has been scheduled June 17 for the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation In America (INVEST in America) Act.
The American Association of Port Authorities welcomed the development.
“The INVEST in America Act proposal released on Wednesday, June 3, by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee represents a significant step toward enhancing our nation’s aging multimodal freight network and port-related infrastructure,” AAPA Government Relations Director Evan Chapman said.
Top Republicans on the House panel said they were not involved in developing the bill, which they view as a product of the Democrats’ partisan agenda.
That approach contrasts sharply with the one taken by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which advanced its five-year, $287 billion bill last summer by a unanimous vote.
Medical Advisory Committee
The Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the National Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee to advise the secretary of Homeland Security. Applications for the 14 positions to be filled should reach the Coast Guard by July 27.
Committee members advise on matters such as medical certification determinations for the issuance of licenses, certification of registry, and merchant mariners’ documents; medical standards and guidelines for the physical qualifications of operators of commercial vessels; medical examiner education; and medical research.
For additional information, contact Michael Lalor at 202-372-2357.
MMC Fee Waiver
The Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing has published a policy letter providing guidance for a waiver of Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) application fees for eligible active duty members of the uniformed services.
Fee waivers can be obtained for evaluation of an application for an MMC, administration of an examination required for an endorsement and the issuance of an MMC. Waivers can be granted to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force and Coast Guard as well as the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service.
Titled “Guidance on Waiver of Merchant Mariner Credential Application Fees for Active Duty Members of the Uniformed Services,” CG-MMC Policy Letter 02-20 is available on the Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credentialing policy website on the MMC Policy webpage and also can be accessed by selecting “Policy & Regulations” on the National Maritime Center’s website. For additional information, contact Mariner Credentialing Program Policy Division at 202-372-2357.
Internet Notices To Mariners
The Coast Guard is seeking comments on its plans making broadcast notices to mariners containing locally relevant navigation information accessible by mobile devices and the internet.
“New methods of information delivery will include Rich Site Summary also known as Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, email and other means such as web-based graphic interfaces,” the Federal Register stated on May 29.
“The Coast Guard believes the internet and mobile availability will allow greater numbers of mariners to access this information, and to do so in a more-timely, reliable, convenient and customized manner. “Currently, the only way to obtain this information is to tune in to local Coast Guard broadcasts that take place on very high frequency (VHF) marine radio two or more times per day.”
Comments must be submitted via www.regulations.gov by July 28. For additional information, contact Eugene Diotalevi at 703–313–5800.
State Of The Great Lakes
While progress has been made to restore and protect the Great Lakes, invasive species and excess nutrients continue to challenge those efforts, according the 2019 State of the Great Lakes (SOGL) released by the United States and Canada.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the report’s release to repeat the Trump administration’s commitment to improving the Great Lakes and its use of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to strategically target the biggest threats identified by the SOGL. Overall, EPA stated, Great Lakes water quality is assessed as “fair and unchanging.”
The SOGL can be read at www.epa.gov/greatlakes.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who clearly thinks the Pentagon has missed the boat on recognizing the importance of the Arctic, pushed a number of Defense Department nominees to catch up on supporting not only efforts on an Arctic strategy but a port that can handle a destroyer or an icebreaker.
“Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned to all of you, the Pentagon has really been probably the last agency in town to realize this,”
Sullivan said after referring to the “great power competition” in the region involving Russia and China.
He also ticked off actions taken by the Senate Armed Services Committee, such as providing authorization to build six Polar-class icebreakers compared to Russia’s 54.
Sullivan’s pressure appears to have paid off.
All three nominees, Kenneth Braithwaite, James Anderson and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., committed to working with the committee on the Arctic once confirmed as Navy secretary, deputy undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Air Force chief of staff, respectively.