Washington, D.C.—Racing against their own legislative clock, House Appropriations subcommittees used voice votes to advance fiscal year 2021 spending bills with robust funding for agencies important to the waterways industry, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maritime Administration.
Democrats not only included funding increases for individual programs, but also added billions of dollars in emergency funding in a separate title to help agencies respond to the ongoing pandemic and reinvigorate the economy.
Republicans observed the custom of saving all amendments for the upcoming markup by the full committee, but they made it clear the bills would not have their support and have no chance of ever becoming law.
Their criticism focused on “controversial policy riders” and the emergency funding they say violates the spirit of the budget agreement reached last summer.
The Energy and Water appropriations bill would provide $7.63 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers, which Waterways Council Inc. pointed out would be a $21 million decrease from the current level of funding.
Funding for investigations would remain at $151 million with $2.6 billion for construction and $3.84 billion for operation and maintenance, an increase of $48 million over the enacted level for the current fiscal year.
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects would receive $1.68 billion, a $50 million boost over the current year, which meets the target set for fiscal year 2021 and represents 92 percent of estimated revenues.
Seven new study starts and seven new construction projects also would be provided by the bill.
An additional $17 billion in emergency funding to speed up work on Corps projects would be provided, with investigations getting $110 million for feasibility studies; construction, $10 billion; and operation and maintenance, $5 billion.
In the transportation bill, the Maritime Administration (MarAd) would receive $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2021, a boost of $197.3 million over the level of the current fiscal year.
The Maritime Security Program would receive $314 million, an increase of $14 million, and an additional $500,000 for each vessel in the program.
With a $75 million increase, the Port Infrastructure Development Program would receive $300 million, and school ship construction would receive $389 million, an increase of $89 million.
In addition, the Department of Transportation, of which MarAd is a part, would receive another $26 billion to help it respond to the pandemic, with $3 billion going to national infrastructure investments; $125 million for MarAd operations and training; $345.5 million for state maritime academy operations; $100 million for assistance to small shipyards; and $1 billion for the Port Infrastructure Development Program.
Schedules announced for both chambers of Congress give lawmakers limited legislative days to complete the appropriations process by October 1, when the 2021 fiscal year begins.
Floor votes are not scheduled in either chamber before July 20, and the political calendar in August is expected to be dominated by the two national nominating conventions.
President Donald Trump welcomed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to the White House where the two leaders celebrated the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which took full effect July 1.
Trump described the agreement as a historic victory.
Following their Rose Garden remarks, the two men also signed a joint agreement that Trump said committed the U.S. and Mexico “to a shared future of prosperity, security and harmony.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also promoted the USMCA and its impact on the U.S. economy during her separate press briefing.
“The USMCA is projected to increase GDP by $235 billion. This means jobs, jobs, jobs,” McEnany said.
When asked why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada was not at the meeting, she cited travel restrictions in Canada due to the coronavirus.
House Infrastructure Package
After the House passed its sweeping $1.5 trillion infrastructure package by a largely party-line vote, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) again urged congressional leaders to work toward a bipartisan approach to transportation reauthorization.
AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor said H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, takes necessary steps toward AAPA’s set of priorities that includes development of a national freight strategy and sustained investment in multimodal infrastructure.
Connor also singled out the provisions to address U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding and expand Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund opportunities along with $15 billion in supplemental funding.
However, his statement also followed a White House veto threat of the House package as well as comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“This nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate,” McConnell declared even before H.R. 2 passed the House by a vote of 233 to 188 with two Democratic no votes and three Republican yes votes.
Opposition of Republicans, which would be enough to derail the package in the Senate, focuses on what they see as a bias against rural areas of the country, too much emphasis on mass transit and electric vehicles and climate change policies.
Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola announced he met with leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and discussed the impact of the current pandemic on their members’ financial wellbeing.
According to Sola, International President William Adams, Vice President Robert “Bobby” Olvera Jr. and Committeemen Frank Ponce de Leon and Cameron Williams participated in the meeting.
Sola said he offered assurances to make traveling to the ports of Alaska and Washington state to meet with their members and assess their situation firsthand a top priority.
“What we must not forget are the thousands of American laborers whose livelihood is directly related to the maritime industry, labor that is not only directly employed by the lines, but the many stevedores, tenders and other port workers who are essential to the cruise ships’ ability to operate,” he said.
Maritime Security Committee
The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet via teleconference July 29 to discuss the Coast Guard’s efforts to develop the Maritime Cyber Risk Analysis Model and updates to the Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular 03–03.
Open to the public, the teleconference is set to begin at 1 p.m.
Written comments should be submitted by July 15 to ensure they are received before the teleconference.
To participate in the teleconference, call 1–202-475-4000 and use pass code 812 197 73# or log onto https://share.dhs.gov/nmsac/ and follow the online instructions to register for this meeting.
For additional information, contact Ryan Owens at 202-372–1108.
MTS Committee Meeting
The Maritime Administration provided a correct website link for a July 15 webinar-based meeting of the U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee.
Set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT, the meeting will have its information posted at www.maritime.dot.gov/outreach/maritime-transportation-system-mts/marine-transportation-system-nationaladvisory-committee.
For additional information, contact Amanda Rutherford at 202-366-1332.
A marine safety alert has been issued to address knowledge gaps in electrical installations and reduce risks of fires and explosions in hazardous areas.
Issued by the Inspections and Compliance Directorate, Marine Safety Alert 05-20 is in response to concerns reported by the maritime community.
“Port State Control Officers (PSCOs) have found certified safe equipment improperly installed or identified missing components, which compromises the certification of the system and nullifies this critical protection in a flammable environment,” stated a posting on a mariners’ blog.
“In other cases, PSCOs found degraded components and evidence of equipment not being maintained or inspected.” Additionally, the post stated, Coast Guard personnel have discovered that individuals responsible for the installation, maintenance and oversight of equipment onboard foreign and domestic vessels were unfamiliar with the appropriate standards to follow.