Washington Waves
Washington Waves

President, Congress Position Themselves For Infrastructure Fight

Washington, D.C.—”Infrastructure Week” was never declared, but that much-anticipated topic was not far out of the spotlight that President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans took turns grabbing.

For his part, the president confirmed in an interview with ABC what everyone already knew. He will be pushing a tax hike, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said will be needed to help pay for infrastructure and other items on the president’s agenda.

Biden said the tax increase would hit only those making more than $400,000.

He made news when he finally endorsed a change in the Senate’s filibuster rules that would force senators to actually “stand up and command the floor” to delay or kill legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed that idea.

“It is not broken, and it doesn’t need to be fixed,” McConnell said.

He had even stronger words for talk that it was time to get rid of the Senate filibuster altogether.

“Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he warned.

“The Senate would be more like a hundred-car pile-up. Nothing moving.”

McConnell also all but predicted Democrats would have to use the budget reconciliation rule to pass Biden’s tax increase as part of an infrastructure package with no Republican votes.

“I don’t think there is going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase,” he said.

In something of a twist, some think a majority of House Republicans may have given an infrastructure package a boost by voting to join Democrats in lifting the ban on earmarks.

State Of The Coast Guard

Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz used his third “State of the Coast Guard” address to highlight efforts to rebuild the service’s cutter programs.

Touting the important role the nation’s inland waterways system plays in the nation’s economy, Adm. Schultz announced the Coast Guard will issue a Request for Proposal this year to replace its legacy fleet of tenders with new Waterways Commerce Cutters.

“Our inland cutters and heartland sectors responded to over 1,100 marine incidents in 2020 including marine casualties, oil discharges, hazardous material releases and various security threats,” he said in the address he delivered in San Diego.

“These marine incidents can close ports and waterways, resulting in lost economic activity, measured in millions of dollars each day.”

Last year, Schultz added, the Atlantic Basin experienced a record hurricane season with 12 making landfall in the U.S.

He also highlighted the Coast Guard’s operations in U.S. ports and waterways that make up the Marine Transportation System.

“Our seaports are the gateways for 90 percent of international trade, and the Coast Guard helps to oversee this vital economic engine that ensures energy products and other goods arrive at businesses and storefronts in every corner of our country,” Schultz said.

He also provided updates on Polar Security and Offshore Patrol cutter acquisitions.

MRC Meetings Set

The Mississippi River Commission has scheduled four meetings next month aboard the Mississippi V.

Open  to the public, the meetings will be held at 9 a.m. April 12 at city front, New Madrid, Mo.; 9 a.m. April 13 at Beale Street Landing, Memphis, Tenn.; 1 p.m. April 14 at city front, Vicksburg, Miss.; and 9 a.m. April 16 at Thalia Street Wharf, New Orleans, La.

Agendas include a summary report by the commission president on issues affecting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commission programs and projects on the Mississippi River and its tributaries; district commanders’ overview of project issues; and presentations by local organizations and members of the public.

For additional information, contact Charles Camillo at 601-634-7023.

MACOSH To Meet Virtually

The Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. March 30 by teleconference and WebEx.

Requests to speak and submission of comments must be submitted electronically by March 22 at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Amy Wangdahl at 202-693-2066.

Distress Signals

The Coast Guard released two studies that recommend increasing public awareness that generally accepted distress signals may yield more reliable results when electronic and visual signals are used in combination.

According to a blog for mariners, the studies do not support incorporation of new distress signals, but the “Coast Guard is always looking at new technologies for use in search and rescue situations.”

Completed by the service’s Research & Development Center, the studies relate to the Enhanced Person in the Water (ePIW) Detection location devices and daytime signal devices.

Great Lakes Pilotage

Great Lakes pilotage costs for the 2021 shipping season will increase by 7 percent under a new rule issued by the Coast Guard that accounts for changes in district operating expenses, an increase in the number of pilots and anticipated inflation.

Effective April 12, the new rule also makes one change to the ratemaking methodology to account for actual inflation in Step 4 and excludes legal fees incurred in litigation against the Coast Guard regarding ratemaking from necessary and reasonable pilot association operating expenses.

Documents can be viewed at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Brian Rogers at 202-372-1535.

Engine Cut-Off Switch

Operators of recreational vessels less than 26 feet in length will be required to use an engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and associated ECOS link (ECOSL) as of April 1, according to a law announced by the Coast Guard.

“The ECOS and ECOSL prevent runaway vessels,” the Coast Guard said.

“Each year, the Coast Guard receives reports of recreational vessel operators who fall off or are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown out of their boat. These events have led to injuries and deaths.”

The Coast Guard noted that using an ECOSL is not required when the main helm is installed within an enclosed cabin and in situations such as docking/trailering, trolling and operating in no-wake zones.

Seven states have ECOS-use laws for recreational vessels, and 44 states have ECOS-use laws for personal watercraft, the service explained.

Alternative Compliance

The Coast Guard released a single U.S. Supplement for vessels enrolling in the Alternative Compliance Program (ACP), a voluntary program designed to reduce regulatory burden of compliance and enhance the competitive position of U.S.-flag vessels.

According to a blog for mariners, the ACP takes advantage of the survey and certifications performed by Recognized Organizations (ROs), promotes flexibility in vessel construction and reduces duplicative inspections and surveys.

It also is designed to maintain an equivalent level of safety to the standards required by federal regulations, the blog stated, adding the single U.S. Supplement meets the intent set out in the Commandant’s Final Action Memorandum following the tragic loss of the El Faro and the requirements contained in the Save Our Seas Act of 2018.

Replacing 12 existing supplements, the single U.S. Supplement is to be used by all ACP-authorized ROs for vessels enrolling in the ACP from March 11 forward.

Unjust Shipping Practices

Bipartisan leaders of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure urged the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to protect U.S. shippers from unjust practices and disruptions in the maritime supply chain.

In a letter to FMC Chairman Michael Khouri, they specifically asked about results of an investigation led by Commissioner Rebecca Dye into compliance of a detention and demurrage rule and federal law.

They also expressed concerns over ocean carriers that have prioritized higher-value foreign goods over U.S. agricultural products.

“These carriers have elected to ship empty containers back to foreign ports while increasing charges on agricultural exports up to $500 per container,” they stated.

 “This has led to widespread spoilage of produce and threatens not only the financial wellbeing of our farmers but also the reliability of our domestic agriculture industry as an international trade partner, the delivery schedules for other intermodal components of the supply chain, the lifeblood of our rural communities and the broader U.S. economy.”

Those signing the letter include Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman and ranking member of the House committee, and Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

FMC spokesman John DeCrosta said the commission is formulating its response to the correspondence.