Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congress, White House Talking About Infrastructure Again

Washington, D.C.—After years of all talk and no action on a major, bipartisan infrastructure package, that topic appears to be experiencing a revival at both the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s something that we think that we could find common ground on,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said when asked about the  administration’s hopes.

That question followed press reports about renewed efforts on a possible package with a trillion-dollar price tag.

McEnany limited her remarks, saying the White House does not have a number on how big such a bill could be.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the administration on our official plans for that,” she said, conceding infrastructure has been discussed for a long time. “But it’s up to Democrats to really come to us and make that happen.” Before that day ended, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California announced she and other leading Democrats will unveil their Moving Forward Act.

Pelosi’s media advisory described it as “bold legislation to rebuild America’s infrastructure.” Such interest is coming unusually late in the current Congress, as conventional wisdom would have  a major legislative effort well underway in 2019 to have a solid chance of succeeding during a presidential election year.

Earlier this year, the House Democrats presented a five-year, $760 billion “framework.” President Donald Trump, who at one point was touting a 10-year, $2 trillion package, used his State of the Union address to embrace a much less ambitious five-year, $287 billion bill pending action in the Senate.

A major sticking point always has been how to pay for a major infrastructure package, regardless of its size.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of those expected to join Pelosi at the bill announcement, kicked off a multi-day mark-up of his transportation bill that had drawn roughly 300 amendments.

Unlike the Senate bill, which came out of committee with a unanimous vote, the House bill is expected to generate strong opposition from Republicans.

MarAd Reauthorization

The chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee introduced a bill reauthorizing the Maritime Administration (MarAd) and providing for COVID-19 relief for ships, key changes for ports and marine highways and grants for a new Community College Maritime Career Training Program and a Tanker Security Program.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said S. 3930 would strengthen programs vital to MarAd’s mission and help maintain the viability of America’s maritime Industry, which he described as critical to national security.

According to a committee statement, the bill would improve MarAd’s Marine Highways program by streamlining application requirements to boost eligibility and obligate the executive branch to be more timely in reviewing applications.

It also would make small ports more competitive for grants under the Port and Intermodal Improvement Program, boost authorized funding for the Small Shipyard Grant Program and authorize full funding for the Title XI maritime guaranteed loan program to support the maritime industrial base.

On the maritime career training program, grants would be authorized to develop or improve such programs along the nation’s coasts, the Great Lakes, Mississippi River System and other inland waterways.

The bill also would enact several reforms at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Coast Guard Civil Penalties

Civil monetary penalties assessed by the U.S. Coast Guard and other components of the Department of Homeland Security have been adjusted to reflect inflation as required by a 2015 law.

“The new penalties will be effective for penalties assessed after June 17, 2020, whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015,” the Federal Register notice stated.

According to the notice, the cost-of-living adjusted multiplier effect was 1.01764 as provided by the Office of Management and Budget.

For additional information, contact Hillary Hunnings at 202-282-9043.

Mariner Survey

The Coast Guard is encouraging mariners who hold credentials with Able Seaman and Lifeboatman endorsements to participate in a survey to validate information as part of a Job Task Analysis (JTA).

According to the explanation posted in a blog for mariners, the JTA is designed to validate examination content with the real-world occupational practice carried out by mariners in today’s merchant fleet.

Mariners can expect to receive an email containing a link to the survey, which will include a unique identifier for their recorded responses.

“It is not linked to you personally, and the information you provide will remain anonymous,” the blog stated.

“Your participation is encouraged for the benefit of the maritime community and the safety of the marine transportation system.” For additional information, contact JobTaskAnalysis@uscg.mil.

Canadian Ballast Water Rule

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) voted unanimously to launch a formal investigation and request comments into allegations that pending Canadian ballast water regulations would be detrimental to U.S. flag Laker vessels.

If finalized as proposed, the Canadian regulations would require vessels in Canadian waters to develop and implement a ballast water management plan to be imposed upon U.S. flag vessels when loading ballast water after offloading export cargo at Canadian ports.

According to the FMC, which voted to order the investigation in May, Canada contends the proposed regulations are required by an International Maritime Organization treaty to which the U.S. is not a signatory.

The Lake Carriers’ Association, which earlier raised the allegations in a petition to the FMC, disputes that claim, saying compliance with the Canadian performance standard would be cost-prohibitive for its members, and the proposed regulations are designed to drive U.S. operators from the cross-lakes trade.

Official concerns of the proposed regulations’ impact focus on the Great Lakes trade area.

Comments can be submitted to Secretary@FMC.gov and must be submitted within 30 days after the FMC’s request is published in the Federal Register.