Washington Waves
Washington Waves

H.R. 2, The “New NAFTA”, And More This Week

Trump Threatens Veto Of House Infrastructure Bill

Washington, D.C. – One day before the U.S. House took up a $1.5-trillion infrastructure package, the White House issued a veto threat criticizing the Democrats’ Moving Forward Act for its bias against rural America, debt-financing, lack of attention to costly permitting delays and “wasteful Green New Deal initiatives.”

The White House also used its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) to promote the bipartisan approach taken by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in advancing its five-year, $287-billion highway bill last summer.

“If H.R. 2 were presented to the president, his advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” the SAP stated.

Given the strong Republican opposition to H.R. 2 in Congress, the president can put his veto pen away. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, dismissed the bill as nothing more than a partisan wish list that will go nowhere.

Procedural votes setting up multiple days of House floor action indicated the bill was in for largely party-line votes. While that may not be enough to kill the effort in the Democratic-controlled House, Senate Republicans, who control their chamber, have expressed no serious interest in taking up a massive infrastructure package and continue to focus on other matters.

On the same day the veto threat was issued, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president remains “keen on Democrats coming to the table and working with us on infrastructure.”

When pressed on how that effort would be different than those that have failed previously, McEnany said, “I won’t get ahead of the president on those negotiations.”

H.R. 2, which covers areas ranging from roads to schools and the U.S. Postal Service, includes provisions that could impact the waterways industry.

It would provide $10 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its backlog of authorized projects, with $3 billion of that directed to the inland waterways system, and additional funds would be authorized for harbor maintenance from the roughly $10 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, referenced funding for essential dredging and upkeep of U.S. harbors, ports and channels to keep cargo moving. DeFazio and other top Democrats pushed their bill as a way not only to invest in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and create jobs but to address climate change and make projects able to withstand the effect of extreme weather events.

‘New NAFTA’ Takes Effect

With President Donald Trump as its top cheerleader, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) took full effect July 1, replacing the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“USMCA is actually the largest trade deal ever made anywhere in the world,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting held in the weeks leading up to the key date. “Bigger than the deal we’ve made with China.” During a visit to Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisc., the president said thousands of new jobs will be created through the Wisconsin supply chain.

Others in the administration also promoted USMCA. During a recent trip to Ohio, Vice President Mike Pence spoke of its impact on auto workers, noting that 75 percent of all automotive parts now will have to be made in North America.

Top Democrats also praised the agreement. At a recent hearing, Rep. Richard Neal, (D-Mass.,) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, described USMCA as a “new high-water mark,” singling out the enforcement system in the trade pact.

Neal and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, released a statement on the eve of USMCA’s effective date urging the administration to enforce those enforcement provisions. “The American people will only benefit from that progress with rigorous enforcement,” the two men said, adding that responsibility also lies with Canada and Mexico.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, USMCA’s effective date comes at a crucial time for farmers and ranchers struggling to recover from both COVID-19 losses and a depressed agricultural economy. “The expected $2 billion annual increase in U.S. agricultural exports and overall increase of $65 billion in gross domestic product will provide a welcome boost,” the organization stated.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado is expected to visit Washington in the coming days.

IWUB Online Virtual Meeting

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to conduct an online virtual meeting July 22. Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 1 p.m.

It can be accessed at https://usace.webex.com/meet/ndc.nav, or by calling toll-free 866-434-5269 in the U.S. or 216-706-7005 using the access code 4935871 and security code 1234 for USA Caller Paid/international toll.

Items on the agenda include the status of fiscal year 2020 funding for inland and coastal navigation and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, update on Waterborne Commerce Data Collection, status of 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, the status of the inland waterways Capital Investment Strategy development and information on the Three Rivers project and Upper Ohio River study.

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

DGPS Switches Off

After more than 25 years of service, the final Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) signals were switched off June 30 at the last four sites in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway by the Coast Guard.

The maritime community no longer has a mission requirement for DGPS with the improved accuracy and integrity of un-augmented GPS and the introduction of the U.S.-operated satellite-based augmentation system known as Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), according to a posting on a Coast Guard blog.

GPS now provides sufficient positional accuracy to meet international navigation requirements for harbor approaches and to position Federal Aids to Navigation (ATON), the blog stated. As part of a phased shutdown that began in 2015, the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already discontinued the inland DGPS component.

MTSNAC Webinar

The Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee (MTSNAC) is scheduled to hold a webinar-based meeting July 15 to discuss recommendations for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Open to the public, the online meeting is set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT.

Requests to speak must be submitted in writing along with a copy of any planned remarks, and written materials to be reviewed at the meeting must be received by July 8.

A website link to join the meeting will be posted by July 8 on the MTSNAC website at https://www.maritime.dot.gov/outreach/ maritime-transportation-system-mts/ maritimetransportation-systemnational-advisory-O.

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

FMC Eases Regs

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) issued a rule eliminating the requirement that ocean carriers publish a concise statement of essential terms with each service contract.

Effective June 25, the FMC stated, the rule will reduce regulatory burden.

It concludes a process initiated with a petition filed at the FMC in 2018 by the World Shipping Council. For additional information, contact Florence Carr at 202-523-5796.

Port Access Route Study

The Coast Guard has requested public comments and scheduled two virtual public meetings as part of a Port Access Route Study (PARS) to determine whether additional vessel routing measures are necessary for port approaches to New York and New Jersey and international and domestic transit areas in the First District area of responsibility.

Comments must be received by August 28, and the webinars are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. EST July 30 and at 6 p.m. EST August 11.

Access information on the two webinars will be posted at

https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=PARS by July 23.

For additional information, contact Craig Lapiejko at 617-223-8351.