Washington, D.C.—Trying to keep its track record intact, the House passed by voice vote the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, sending it on to the Senate for final congressional action.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the bill a “bipartisan, bicameral agreement,” and highlighted authorization in S. 1811 for all 46 reports—a record number—of the chief engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 27 new feasibility studies and expedited completion of more than 60 ongoing studies.
DeFazio also pointed to provisions to ensure full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by unlocking funds that have sat idle for decades.
Combined with other funds, he said, WRDA 2020 likely could provide up to $4 billion annually for maintenance dredging that the Corps noted should address the complete backlog within five years.
The National Waterways Conference cited the bill’s changes in the cost share of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund from a 50-50 split to 65-35 with the largest share coming from the U.S. Treasury general fund.
Supporters of the popular legislation remain committed to maintaining the record that began in 2014 to pass a WRDA bill on a biennial basis.
Members of the cargo transportation sector asked a key Senate committee to prioritize the nation’s supply chain workers for access to the COVID-19 vaccine to minimize disruptions in its distribution.
“Prioritizing vaccinations for freight, rail, port and energy workers will be a key intervention to help keep our critical supply chains operating, and to reinforce the resilience of our transportation networks,” they stated in a letter to leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee.
Christopher Connor, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, which released the letter, said supply chain industries have kept essential goods moving during the pandemic.
“Their dedication and perseverance has enabled commerce to continue flowing during a time of great risk to their personal health and well-being, ensuring the goods we want and need are available when and where we need them,” Connor said.
Others on the letter: American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association; Association of American Railroads; American Trucking Associations; American Waterways Operators; Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals; Interstate Natural Gas Association of America; National Association of Waterfront Employers; National Maritime Safety Association; National Tank Truck Carriers; and Truckload Carriers Association.
Stopgap Funding Measure
With negotiations failing to produce a deal on fiscal year 2021 appropriations and another coronavirus relief bill, the House passed another stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded until December 18.
A current continuing resolution expired December 11.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the need for another stopgap measure “an admission of failure.”
While several sticking points remain on the omnibus funding bill congressional leaders say they are committed to passing during the current lame duck session, negotiations on coronavirus relief appear to have hit another difficult patch.
Members of the maritime transportation industry called for Congress and the Trump administration to include $3.5 billion in relief funds to help their sector deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Congressional leaders had hoped to attach the coronavirus relief package to the omnibus appropriations measure.
Defense Authorization Act
The House easily approved a major defense bill that includes provisions important to the maritime industry, despite repeated veto threats by President Donald Trump.
Passed by a vote of 335 to 78, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) went to the Senate, which also was expected to approve the bill.
The American Association of Port Authorities singled out language establishing a new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program (MTSERP) to provide funding to ports following natural disasters and emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Including the new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program in the FY21 NDAA bill is a definitive statement by our federal policymakers about the criticality of America’s ports and how essential they are in keeping the goods we need and depend on moving, whatever the circumstances or calamities that may impact them,” AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor said.
Other provisions cited by AAPA included language to raise the authorized funding level for the Port Infrastructure Development Program to $750 million annually, up from $500 million.
Targets of Trump’s veto threats included language to rename military facilities that currently honor Confederate leaders and lack of a provision in the bill to strip certain legal protections from social media companies.
Empty Container Supply
Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Chairman Michael Khouri said the FMC is examining all potential actions in response to reports that U.S. agricultural exporters are being shut out of global markets because ocean carriers are not supplying containers to them.
“Some ocean carriers—not all—have stated that they will no longer … reposition empty containers to the U.S. interior agricultural areas,” Khouri said in his remarks to the Global Maritime Conference.
“This abandonment of a significant U.S. export industry—the American agricultural industry—is shutting them out of global markets.”
Khouri said potential actions being examined at the FMC include whether the carriers are in full compliance with the Shipping Act and more specifically the various “Prohibited Acts” of that provision.
Last month, the FMC approved a supplemental order to Fact Finding 29 that directs Fact Finding Officer Rebecca Dye to investigate the detention and demurrage, container return and container availability for U.S. export cargoes practices of ocean carriers operating in alliance.
Offshore Wind Installations
In a review provided for by law, the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined the challenges of constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations.
GAO reported that it was told by stakeholders that currently there are no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV), which may cost up to $500 million, but one company has announced a plan to build one.
Under one scenario reported on by GAO, a foreign-flag WTIV could be used to install the turbines with the components carried to the site from Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels, but stakeholders said larger feeder vessels than those currently available probably would be needed to be built to handle the large turbines likely used by developers.
Uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for the projects was cited as a reason obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs has been challenging.
GAO reported the Department of Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, plans to issue a decision on the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind project in the coming weeks.
MACOSH Nominations Sought
Nominations are being sought for membership on the Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH).
Requested by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nominations must be postmarked, transmitted or received by January 22.
Recently the MACOSH charter was renewed until December 8, 2022, by the secretary of labor, who may seek the committee’s advice on worker training, education and assistance, setting and enforcing standards and assuring safe and healthy working conditions in the maritime industry.
For additional information, contact Amy Wangdahl at 202-693-2066.