Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Senate Democrats Unveil Remaining Appropriations Bills

Washington, D.C.—Funding increases for programs important to maritime transportation were among those highlighted by Democrats as the nine remaining Senate appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022 were unveiled.

A call by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for bipartisan, bicameral talks on enacting all 12 spending bills by December 3, when the current stop-gap bill keeping federal agencies funded expires, was a nonstarter for Republicans.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee’s vice chairman, described Leahy’s move as a “significant step in the wrong direction.”

Shelby said the bills came out of a “one-sided” process, adding they not only included so-called poison pills but removed legacy riders on topics such as terrorism, abortion and immigration.

One bill would increase funding for the Port Infrastructure Development Program to $240 million, a $10 million boost, to help improve the efficient movement of commerce around the nation’s congested ports.

RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) discretionary grants, formerly called TIGER and BUILD grants, would receive $1.09 billion, $90 million more than fiscal year 2021.

The newly released bills covered Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; Transportation and Housing; Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; State and Foreign Operations; and the Legislative Branch.

In August, the committee advanced the first three spending bills covering Energy and Water; Agriculture; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs with bipartisan support.

Infrastructure Talks

Democrats reported significant progress in infrastructure talks that, if successful, could lead to a much-anticipated House vote on a trillion-dollar bipartisan bill that includes $17 billion for ports and waterways.

Referred to as the hard or traditional infrastructure bill, that measure passed the Senate in August.

House action on the bill has been held up as Democrats sparred among themselves on what their leaders hoped would be a $3.5 trillion so-called human infrastructure package that is not expected to win any Republican support.

That package’s price tag is being trimmed, reportedly by more than a third.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in floor remarks Democrats are “united in our desire to reach an agreement this week.” 

“I believe we can get it done,” Schumer said.

“Everyone is going to have to compromise if we are to find that legislative sweet spot that we can all get behind.”

If reached, an agreement would lead to writing the actual legislation, which is expected to take days.

Sexual Assault Allegations

Questioned about sexual assault allegations involving the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz told a Senate panel there have been five investigated cases in 10 years but added he suspects more activities are going undetected or unreported.

Schultz said the Coast Guard, which is responsible for investigating such allegations on ships at sea, has a tip line that is being promoted through the media to educate those who need to report information.

Noting the ships USMMA cadets serve on can be at sea for 300-plus days, he spoke of the challenges of gathering evidence from those ships.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, agreed activity is going undetected.

“We are hearing from them,” Cantwell said. She also suggested the fines that can be levied in such cases possibly should be increased.

“As we diversify this work force, we have to make sure that women are safe at sea and that we have the resources and infrastructure to oversee the operations of these ships that you have oversight over and make sure that we have a very aggressive action plan to get the behavior that we want from those parent companies,” Cantwell said.

Schultz agreed and offered assurances he is committed to addressing the issue and holding people accountable.

WOTUS Definition

Two key federal agencies requested self-nomination letters from communities willing to organize “discrete roundtables” to provide input on regional implications of “waters of the United States (WOTUS).”

“Crafting a lasting definition of WOTUS means that we must bolster our understanding of how different regions experience and protect our nation’s vital waters,” said Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“These roundtables will provide a great opportunity to deepen our shared knowledge. They also represent one opportunity—in a suite of strategic tools—the agencies are utilizing to obtain input on this important topic.”

EPA announced the initiative along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

They set a November 3 deadline for the letters.

Each nomination for a roundtable must include a proposed slate of participants representing perspectives of agriculture, conservation groups, developers, drinking water/wastewater management, environmental organizations, environmental justice communities, industry and other key interests in that region, the announcement stated.

Military To Maritime

Capt. Bradley Clare, commanding officer of the National Maritime Center (NMC), promoted his agency’s commitment to helping veterans and active members of the military enter the maritime industry.

In a letter, Clare cited Executive Order (EO) 13860 of 2019 directing the Defense and Homeland Security departments to ease requirements that stand in the way of military service members interested in earning merchant mariner credentials.

“By supporting EO 13860, the NMC can offer credit for military training and experience, credit for military sea service and offer potential fee waivers to those who qualify,” he wrote.

For additional information, visit the NMC website, the Coast Guard’s Voluntary Credentialing Program portal and services’ Military to Mariner program.

Marine Engineering Standards

The Coast Guard proposes to incorporate updated marine engineering standards and eliminate outdated or unnecessarily prescriptive regulations as part of a continuing effort to increase compliance options while saving costs to both the public and the government.

Comments from the public must be received by December 20 and can be submitted at www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Thane Gilman at 202-372-1383.