Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Committee Works On Implementing WRDA 2020 Reforms

Washington, D.C.—Inland waterways and the crucial role they currently play in the nation’s economy and could play in reducing congestion on major highways was one of the topics discussed at a congressional hearing on implementing landmark reforms in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, made it clear the hearing also was the kickoff to getting the next WRDA legislation passed by the new Congress. 

Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, used her testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment to promote the importance of the inland waterway-intermodal transportation system.

While acknowledging improvements in financing and management of challenges to inland waterways, Bucci urged Congress to accept that more work is needed as international competitors continue to improve their systems.

She said that attention starts with reinstating the Inland Waterways Users Board, which was suspended along with other Department of Defense advisory committees while a review was conducted.

In response to a question on using the inland waterways to reduce congestion on highways, Bucci spoke of funding infrastructure changes that could lead terminals to accept different types of freight, shipping certain cargo shorter distances and educating the public about the underutilized mode of shipment that could help take trucks off highways.

Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, called on Congress to ensure breakthrough reforms in WRDA 2020—such as a budget cap adjustment for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF)—are implemented as intended and the distribution approach developed for HMTF is not delayed by a lack of direction from Congress.

During his opening remarks, DeFazio singled out a provision that unlocked once-idled funds in the HMTF, a long-sought goal of his.

He and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the committee’s ranking member, sent a letter earlier this year urging President Joe Biden to include the full use of the HMTF in his upcoming budget request to Congress.

Infrastructure Hearing

During a hearing on infrastructure needs, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) highlighted the congestion challenges at U.S. ports that hold back the nation’s export economy and competitiveness.

“There are currently 26 ships anchored, idle, off the Port of L.A./Long Beach because they are not able to get to port,” said Cantwell, the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“When ships are unable to get to port, too often foreign-owned carriers offload goods at American ports and then load up empty containers to go back to Asia, leaving U.S. exports behind.”

She cited a report that stated at least $1.3 billion in potential agricultural exports were rejected at major ports on the East and West coasts during one six-month period.

In his testimony to the panel, Mark McAndrews, director of the Port of Pascagoula in Mississippi and previous chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities, offered several recommendations such as increasing funding for the Port and Intermodal Improvement Program, freight formula programs and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants.

As key members of Congress focused more attention on the nation’s transportation needs, the White House announced that President Joe Biden will be going to Pittsburgh on March 31 to deliver a speech laying out more details of his economic plan, which is expected to include a massive infrastructure package.

Crew Change Issues

Responding to humanitarian concerns caused by the pandemic, the Coast Guard provided guidance to U.S. mariners experiencing crew change issues abroad and foreign mariners facing issues here in the U.S.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significant impacts on the U.S. Marine Transportation System, the global shipping industry and on seafarers themselves,” the service stated in Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) 04-21.

“Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers.”

According to the MSIB, seafarers unable to leave a vessel at the end of their contracts have experienced physical and mental fatigue leading to humanitarian concerns for both for their safety and shipping.

The MSIB includes details on how U.S. mariners abroad should consult the host country’s guidelines and, if still unable to travel, email the Coast Guard at COVID-19crewchange@uscg.mil.

Foreign mariners also can use that email address if they have expended other resources.

Great Lakes Pilotage

The Coast Guard is seeking applications to serve on the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee, which provides advice to the Homeland Security secretary on matters relating to Great Lakes pilotage.

Applications should reach the Coast Guard by May 21 via email to Vincent Berg at GreatLakesPilotage@uscg.mil.

Citing recent changes to the committee’s membership, the Coast Guard said it will consider nominations for one member chosen from among nominations made by Great Lakes port authorities and marine terminals, one member chosen from among nominations made by Great Lakes maritime labor organizations and one member recommended by unanimous vote of the other members of the Committee.

For additional information, contact Berg at 202-906-0835.