Washington, D.C.—Democrats completed a political trifecta by winning two Senate runoff elections in Georgia and taking control of both chambers in the new Congress, along with the White House later this month.
Those crucial victories left the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with tie-breaking power after her swearing in on January 20.
They also handed a dramatic boost to President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to push his upcoming legislative agenda.
“You’ll see amazing things coming out of our new (committee) chairs and subcommittee chairs,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is scheduled to become the next Senate majority leader.
Even before any legislative wins, the first impact from the power shift in the Senate is expected to be seen in the speed with which Biden’s nominees will be confirmed. Current Senate rules require only a simple majority vote for confirmation, which Democrats will have.
Concerning the legislative agenda, which he will control, Schumer limited his comments but said one of his first goals will be to deliver $2,000 checks to American families.
Congressional Democrats joined President Donald Trump in pushing for that level of coronavirus relief but had to settle for $600 after Trump failed to get his fellow Republicans to agree.
In his comments on the Georgia election, Biden listed economic relief, climate, racial justice and voting rights as examples of his priorities.
AWO Applauds NDAA
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) applauded the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), describing it as one of the most significant laws for the domestic maritime industry.
AWO singled out “landmark” provisions in the NDAA that affirm the application of the Jones Act and another law on renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf.
“The legislation eliminates the uncertainty that had been created by conflicting federal agency interpretations and paves the way for significant new investment in American vessels, and jobs for American mariners, to serve the burgeoning offshore renewable energy market,” AWO stated.
“H.R. 6395 also brings much-needed reform to the administrative process for issuance of Jones Act waivers by clarifying that a national defense waiver must be tied to a legitimate national defense need, establishing strict time limits on non-defense waivers, and increasing transparency by requiring public reporting on any foreign vessel using such a waiver to operate in U.S. domestic commerce.”
AWO highlighted other key provisions for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry including the establishment of the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program, codification of requirements for harbor tugs engaged in limited operations beyond the boundary line and a time-limited directive to the Coast Guard to establish differentiated inspection user fees for towing vessels using the Towing Safety Management System and Coast Guard options to comply with Subchapter M towing vessel safety regulations.
“We extend our hearty thanks to the many AWO members, industry coalition partners and bipartisan champions in Congress who helped to get this important legislation over the finish line despite numerous challenges,” AWO President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter said.
“We look forward to working with our partners and allies to build on this progress and deliver results that make a positive difference for the domestic maritime industry as the 117th Congress gets underway.”
President Trump had vetoed the popular bill, but it became law after the Senate, following House action, voted 81 to 13 to override the president’s veto.
TWIC Reader Rule
Marine Safety Information Bulletin 13-20 (Change 2) has been published to provide updates to the implementation and enforcement of Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Reader Rule.
Topics included in the bulletin range from escort ratios for secure areas of a maritime facility and temporary relief for local users unable to meet Alternative Security Program requirements to flexibility provided for merchant mariner credentials.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reissued 12 nationwide permits (NWPs) and issued four new ones for work in wetlands and other waters that are regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and/or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
Once published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, the Corps said, the NWPs will replace prior versions of the 2017 permits.
A press release is to be issued with the dates the permits will take effect and expire.
Meanwhile, all 2017 NWPs remain in effect, and the remaining 40 from 2017 will remain in effect through their scheduled expiration date on March 18, 2022.
Nationwide permits authorize activities that are similar in nature and cause only minimal adverse environmental impact to aquatic resources.
Activities range from work associated with navigation aids and utility lines to residential developments and maintenance activities.
A pre-publication copy of the new NWP rule is posted at: www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/Nationwide-Permits/.
Water Quality Assessment
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final report that provides a historical snapshot of water quality in U.S. rivers and streams, including inland waterways.
EPA also announced it was seeking input on the design and implementation of the National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS) to improve future assessments, conceding its methods are three decades old and may not reflect the best scientific methods available.
Entitled National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) 2013-2014: A Collaborative Survey, the final report includes a comparison between water quality metrics in 2013-2014 and 2008-2009, which generally shows that water quality in rivers and streams across the country remained relatively unchanged between 2008 and 2014.
Additional information can be found at www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys.
With the publication of the official notice, the clock is ticking on applications for a new demonstration program launched by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish several Regional Infrastructure Accelerators and expedite projects through innovative finance and delivery methods.
Applications now must be submitted through Grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. EST 90 days after December 31, when the DOT’s Build America Bureau issued its Notice of Funding Opportunity in the Federal Register.
According to the funding notice, a public authority with a transportation function including a port would be eligible to apply.
The Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC) has been unable to meet workload demands for timely processing of recreational vessel documentation, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported.
“From January 2015 through September 2019, its recreational documentation processing time averaged 57 days: about four times longer than its 15-day informal target,” GAO stated in a review provided for by law.
GAO reported NVDC officials attributed the current backlog to issues with the information technology system that limited staff’s ability to access the system.
In addition, the government’s watchdog agency reported the Coast Guard generally has not conducted analyses of its vessel documentation system since 2012, and, unlike its other units, the NVDC uses an informal target to measure staff timeliness.
According to GAO, the Coast Guard concurred with its seven recommendations, such as implementing procedures for conducting analyses and establishing formal performance targets for the NVDC.