Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Senate Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Washington, D.C.—On one lengthy legislative day, the Senate easily approved a historic trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes billions for ports and waterways and then narrowly passed, with support only from Democrats, a resolution with instructions on a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said those votes produced “one of the most significant legislative days we have had for a long time here in the United States Senate.”

Still, Schumer interrupted his own victory lap by conceding the legislation expected to be a huge part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda faces serious hurdles.

“Maybe the hardest work is yet to come,” he said.

Two of Schumer’s fellow Democrats—Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have said they could not continue to support a $3.5 trillion price tag.

Given a 50-50 Senate, the loss of even one Democrat could sink that effort, which advanced with a 50-49 vote with one Republican not voting because of a family health issue.

Challenges also have surfaced among House Democrats who think the Senate’s efforts fell short.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he would continue fighting for transformational funding in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation process.

DeFazio also criticized the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed 69-30 after it took over H.R. 3684, which DeFazio sponsored in the House as a major surface transportation bill.

Despite obvious differences within his own party, Schumer expressed confidence Democrats will debate ideas among themselves but end up united.

Both chambers are gone for their traditional August recess, but Schumer said he has given key committee chairs a deadline for finishing their work on the reconciliation package.

“I want to get the reconciliation bill done on September 15,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly has said she will not schedule a vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate finishes with the reconciliation bill.

Despite such a delay on final passage, Biden also remained confident.

“We’ll get it done. I’ll get both,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Waterfront Employers (NAWE) and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) sent letters to congressional leaders requesting funding for port infrastructure, climate mitigation programs, multimodal freight projects and the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Act (MTSERA).

In their letters, NAWE and AAPA also expressed thanks for the historic investments the current Congress is making in maritime infrastructure, calling the programs in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act transformative.

They specifically requested an additional $10 billion over the next five years for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, $3.5 billion for MTSERA and $50 billion over 10 years to fund mechanisms outlined in Subpart C of the LIFT America Act.

Port Congestion

While promoting his Build Back Better agenda, President Biden once again singled out congestion at U.S. ports.

“We’re talking about taking action that alleviates global supply chain challenges that keep prices higher than they should be,” Biden said.

“For example, we’re tracking congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest ports in the United States, where increased shipping traffic and the challenges of operating safely in a pandemic are creating disruptions.”

He blamed the disruptions for impacting “everything from how much our food costs to when deliveries arrive.”

“So, my administration is bringing together the port operators, shipping lines, the labor unions, trucking companies, railroads and others to speed up the ports’ operations,” the president said.

Citing experts as well as major independent forecasters, Biden said the bottlenecks and price spikes will reduce as the economy continues to heal.

New NMC Commander

The new commanding officer of the National Maritime Center (NMC) emphasized the importance of assisting those waiting to receive merchant mariner credentials.

“Not only because it is important to the strength of the MTS (Maritime Transportation System), but because we realize this is your livelihood,” Capt. B.W. Clare stated in a “Greetings” message after he issued the first Merchant Mariner Credential with his signature to a member of the maritime community on July 23.

That credential went to Capt. Joshua Ferguson of Crowley Maritime Corporation.

“I understand that there have been unprecedented challenges in the past year for the maritime community,” Clare said.

“I assure you that the NMC is working each day to improve our processes in order to better meet your credentialing needs.”

Headquartered in Martinsburg, W.Va., the NMC stated it fulfills licensing needs for approximately 200,000 credentialed mariners who serve as crew members aboard vessels operating on America’s waterways and the world’s oceans, annually issues an average of 60,000 credentials and 60,000 medical certificates, approves 2,900 training courses and serves 318 training providers.

Passenger Ferry Grants

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the availability of $38 million in competitive grants under the Fiscal Year 2021 Passenger Ferry Grant Program.

Of that amount, the FTA said $4 million is available only for low- or zero-emission ferries or ferries using electric battery or fuel cell components and the infrastructure to support such ferries.

Proposals must be submitted electronically through the grants.gov ‘‘APPLY’’ function by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on October 5.

Prospective applicants were urged to initiate the process by promptly registering on the grants.gov website to ensure completion before the deadline.

For additional information, contact Vanessa Williams at 202-366-4818.

CG Boat Station Consolidation

The Coast Guard extended the deadline for public comments regarding the consolidation of redundant Coast Guard boat stations at Scituate, Mass.; Holland, Mich.; North Superior, Minn.; and Beach Haven, N.J.

 Comments now must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. September 22 and may be submitted via www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Todd Aikins at 202-372-2463.

Electronic Submissions

The Coast Guard said a final rule takes effect September 10 enabling regulated facilities to electronically submit operations manuals and emergency manuals and electronically communicate with the Coast Guard.

This rule also allows facility operators to submit one electronic or printed copy of the manuals and one electronic or printed copy of the amendments to the manuals.

Finally, this rule requires the regulated facilities to maintain either an electronic or a printed copy of each required manual in the marine transfer area of the facility during transfer operations.

For additional information, view the August 11 edition of the Federal Register or contact Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Mazyck at 202-372-1130.