Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Funding Urged

Washington, D.C.—More than 30 maritime industry groups urged Congress and the Biden administration to include emergency relief funding for the maritime transportation system in the next COVID-19 relief package.

“Immediate steps must be taken to ensure that the whole of the maritime transportation system has the resources necessary to address the unique and unexpected challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” states the groups’ letter to President Joe Biden.

“To date, no dedicated funding has been provided in any of the COVID-19 legislative packages to assist the maritime transportation system despite emergency relief being provided to other modes of transportation.”

A second letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The groups want Congress to fund the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Fund Program, which was created only last year authorizing the Maritime Administration to provide grants during emergencies, including the ongoing pandemic.

Negotiations continue on a potential COVID-19 relief package, but differences separating the White House offer and an alternative put forward by a small group of Senate Republicans appear too large to bridge.

Congressional Democrats have signaled a willingness to use a budget process that would allow the larger package to be passed by a simple majority instead of the supermajority usually required under Senate rules.

 Navigable Waters Rule

 During his Senate confirmation hearing, Michael Regan, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, sidestepped a question on whether he plans to rescind the year-old Navigable Waters Protection Rule.

“If I am confirmed, I plan to take a look at what our options are to address any kind of lingering concerns,” Regan said, adding he would talk to stakeholders to provide certainty, especially to small farmers.

“But I also want to be sure that we do that in a way where we are protecting our water quality, our wetlands and our bays.” 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) posed the question after citing action Biden took on his first day in office that she clearly thought targeted the Navigable Waters Protection Rule for repeal.

That rule replaced the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule put in place in 2015 during the Obama administration.

Both rules generated serious controversy as well as legal challenges.

Others on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee raised the issue with Regan, who currently heads up the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Buttigieg, Mayorkas Sworn In

Two new members of President Biden’s Cabinet important to the waterways industry were sworn in after winning Senate confirmation.

Pete Buttigieg became the secretary of transportation, a department that also includes the Maritime Administration, following a confirmation vote of 86 to 13.

Buttigieg has kept an unusually high profile that includes  television appearances, a sign his role in the administration will not be confined to traditional transportation issues.

“He’s going to play a pivotal role in our economic planning,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Democrats welcomed Buttigieg’s approach to open a new transportation era while Republicans saw it as an effort to push an agenda that has nothing to do with improving transportation options for Americans.

By a vote of 56 to 43, Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as the secretary of homeland security, which includes the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.

Democrats lauded his experience in government while Republicans focused their opposition on what they saw as ethical lapses during his previous service.

Vaccine Priority

In a recent letter to President Joe Biden, two members of the Federal Maritime Commission called for prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for the nation’s maritime workforce.

“While we recognize that prioritization for vaccination will be determined by the individual states, we believe that the administration should emphasize the need to keep the supply chain transportation workforce in mind as each state deploys rapid COVID-19 testing and implements the vaccination process,” commissioners Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei said.

They noted the upward trend of the number of positive tests for maritime workers.

“A large-scale workforce disruption from COVID-19 would be disastrous,” they said.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) joined nine other organizations in urging state governors to prioritize port workers in distribution plans for the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA), the groups stated potential supply chain disruptions could be  avoided by authorizing access in Phase 1 to vaccinations for transportation infrastructure workers.

“America’s ports and their workforce of more than 650,000 personnel have kept essential goods moving to medical professionals, first responders, vital manufacturing and retail businesses during the pandemic,” AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor said in a statement.

“Their dedication has ensured continuity at great risk to their personal health.”

In addition to AAPA, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, American Trucking Association, American Waterways Operators, Association of American Railroads, Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, National Association of Waterfront Employees, National Tank Truck Carriers and Truckload Carriers Association signed the letter. 

A spokesman said the NGA did not have a response.

Weather Forecasting

A key senator stressed the importance of science in areas such as weather forecasting for maritime and other key industries during the confirmation hearing for Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as President Biden’s secretary of commerce.

“There’s no reason why the United States should not be a leader in weather forecasting,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the incoming chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“This is an important issue for us, whether you’re talking about fires or you’re talking about ocean issues. So, making a better, crucial investment in science for maritime, aviation, space and agriculture industries will be very important for us moving forward.”

Raimondo assured the panel she plans to lead with science.

Her nomination was advanced by a vote of 21 to 3.

Mask Mandate

The Coast Guard has published a bulletin on President Biden’s executive order requiring masks to be worn on all “public maritime vessels, including ferries” to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.

An order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires persons traveling on all commercial vessels to wear a mask.

Questions concerning the notice may be sent to the Coast Guard Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance  at wearamask@uscg.mil.

Mental Health Needs

Mariners are being encouraged to take an online survey on mental health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Available through May 31, the confidential survey can be found at https://redcap.link/mariners.

According to a Coast Guard blog for mariners, the survey is being conducted by Dr. Marissa Baker, University of Washington School of Public Health.

Results will be shared with federal agencies, vessel owners/operators, mariner unions, maritime training institutions, seafarer welfare organizations and MTS stakeholders to facilitate development of solutions that benefit mariners’ mental well-being.

The survey is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the COVID-19 Working Group (C-19 WG) of the federal interagency U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS).

For additional information, contact Baker at bakermg@uw.edu and Nuns Jain, C-19 WG, at C19WG@cmts.gov.

MARPOL Regulations

The Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance has published a policy letter to outline how the Coast Guard will enforce MARPOL Annex VI Regulations, the Tier III NOx limits, for certain engines installed on recreational vessels above 24 meters in length and less than 500 gross tonnage.

Set to expire on December 31, 2023, Policy Letter 21-01: “Exercise of enforcement discretion with regard to MARPOL Annex VI Regulation” can be viewed on the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance (CG-CVC) website.

Questions concerning this policy letter and guidance should be directed to CG-CVC-1@uscg.mil.