Guest Editorials

What’s Next For Maritime Policy?


With Election Day behind us, changes are on the horizon for America’s maritime industry. It is inevitable that some federal priorities will change with any new administration, and the Joseph R. Biden administration will enter with a full plate. Much like during President Barack Obama’s first term, President-elect Biden will enter office in a time of great economic distress. The COVID-19 global pandemic has crippled many sectors of our economy. However, the good news is that economic recovery is consistent with two key priorities that the Biden-Harris ticket campaigned on in their “Build Back Better” agenda.

The first is transition to a clean energy economy. What does this mean for the maritime industry? Maritime will play a major role in speeding this transformation, like supporting the development of the U.S. offshore wind energy sector. Developing this clean, renewable and competitively priced energy source will create work for U.S. shipyards, vessel operators and port facilities, translating to both shoreside and shipboard jobs.

It can also mean further development and expansion of domestic marine highway corridors on our coasts and inland waterways. Maritime is already one of the lowest emitting modes of transportation, when compared to surface modes, so moving more goods on the water rather than adding new lanes of interstate can be faster, cheaper and more sustainable.

The maritime industry’s own operations present opportunities to reduce emissions. For example, goals can include electrification of port drayage and cargo handling equipment or use of cutting-edge digitalization technology to optimize terminal operations. Even new vessel technologies hold promise for emissions reduction, as demonstrated by the first all-electric U.S.-built passenger vessels christened this year in upstate New York. A Biden administration will likely be open to innovative technologies such as these to make progress toward a clean energy economy.

The second priority, though by no means second in importance, is the consideration of equity and social impacts on federal transportation decisions. As America builds back ”better,” the incoming administration will likely be taking actions to ensure all Americans are able to share in the economic recovery. For the maritime industry, this could mean a close look at how infrastructure development projects at ports and other shoreside facilities impact local neighborhoods. It can also mean a focus on how federally funded programs in maritime education are recruiting and training with regard to ethnic and racial equity.

The timing of actions to implement any new agenda depends on how quickly the incoming administration can make the transition, given the unprecedented nature of this year’s election. In addition to getting leadership in place, the new team will want to make priorities known to Congress in order to secure needed resources and authorities. With at least a full term to implement their policy agenda, the Biden administration will be looking for maritime industry partners to help secure outcomes consistent with its priorities.

Dave Matsuda served as U.S. Maritime Administrator during President Obama’s first term. Today, he consults on transportation, innovation and defense matters. When he isn’t working, Matsuda enjoys fishing in the Chesapeake Bay with friends. You can find more about Dave on LinkedIn.