Washington Waves
Washington Waves

House Passes Biden’s Build Back Better Act

Washington, D.C.—The House narrowly approved President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a roughly $1.7 trillion social spending and climate bill that also would provide millions more for maritime infrastructure on top of the $17 billion in the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

Passed by a 220–213 vote mostly along party lines, H.R. 5376 goes to the Senate, where its fate is far from certain.

Key supporters in the House continued to promote the historic aspects of the massive measure.

According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill would provide $350 million to the Coast Guard for a Great Lakes icebreaker, $650 million to the Coast Guard for climate resilient infrastructure, $600 million to the Maritime Administration to support more sustainable port infrastructure, supply chain resilience, reduction in port congestion, the development of offshore wind support infrastructure, environmental remediation and projects to reduce impact of ports on the environment.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has included the Build Back Better bill as part of a “huge” agenda for December.

“We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk,” Schumer said following the House vote.

His hope for a vote before the end of this year, however, faces the same challenges the bill has always faced.

Republicans are expected to remain united against the legislation, and in a 50-50 Senate, the loss of even one Democrat could kill the entire effort.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the moderates whose vote could make the difference, continues to express concerns about the bill’s price tag as well as inflation, especially rising prices at the gas pump.

“It’s taking a toll,” Manchin told reporters.

To lower prices for Americans, President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The administration said that move was consistent with its “ambitious clean energy goals.”

Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Biden’s announcement “an important policy Band-Aid” for rising gas prices that does not solve the self-inflicted wound caused by a shortsighted energy policy.

He continued to call on the president to reverse course on allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to be built and responsibly increasing energy production in the U.S.

Defense Authorization Act

Before the Thanksgiving break, the Senate began action on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), another must-pass bill on that chamber’s busy agenda for December.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, conceded he does not support every provision of the bill but noted Congress has passed an NDAA every year for the last 60 years.

“This bill is the most important bill we do each year,” Inhofe said, adding senators will have the opportunity to vote on amendments during an open floor process.

That measure traditionally includes provisions impacting the Maritime Administration.

Environmental Regulations

Key congressional Republicans continue to issue warnings concerning the Biden administration’s moves on environmental regulations.

House Republicans said the administration could even end up killing infrastructure projects at the same time it is handing out unprecedented funding for such projects.

“NEPA-related delays in infrastructure projects can lead to a tremendous loss of investment and extinguish the labor force when jobs are put on hold or never materialize,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory.

 Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, focused on the announcement of a proposed rule by two agencies to re-establish the pre-2015 definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS).

Capito said the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “will likely be even more stringent than the Obama administration’s 2015 WOTUS Rule.”

“Farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, private land owners and other stakeholders should expect reduced regulatory certainty and a continued lack of transparency in their livelihoods,” she said, predicting the new rule will invite more legal challenges.

“This is not the way to create enduring policy.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate committee, commended the administration’s move toward a more enduring definition of WOTUS that will protect the nation’s waters and wetlands.

TSAC To Meet

The National Towing Safety Advisory Committee is scheduled to hold a meeting via teleconference on December 7 to discuss the election of officers, issuance of new task statements and stand-up of the Task Statement Vetting Committee.

Also on the agenda will be the draft final report for Towing Safety Advisory Committee Task 16–01, Subchapter M Implementation, Workgroup Item #1 that sought to identify the parameters Coast Guard officials should use to determine whether a vessel inspected under subchapters other than Subchapter M is performing ‘‘occasional towing.’’

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 10 a.m. EST.

Comments and documents should be submitted by December 1 to ensure they are reviewed by members before the teleconference.

For additional information, including on how to join the teleconference, contact Matthew Layman at 202-372-1421 by 1 p.m. December 1.

Shipper Advisory Committee

The National Shipper Advisory Committee (NSAC) is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Eastern December 8 by video conference.

NSAC was established to advise the Federal Maritime Commission on policies relating to the competitiveness, reliability, integrity and fairness of the international ocean freight delivery system.

Requests to register for the meeting must be submitted to nsac@fmc.gov by 5 p.m. Eastern December 3 and contain “Register For NSAC Meeting” in the subject line.

The number of lines may be limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

For additional information, contact Dylan Richmond at 202-523-5810.

Shipping Data Constraints

The Federal Maritime Commission announced a new effort to identify data constraints that impede the flow of ocean cargo and add to supply chain inefficiencies.

Spearheaded by Commissioner Carl Bentzel, the initiative is to propose recommendations for common data standards used by the international shipping chain as well as access policies and protocols that would streamline information sharing across the ocean supply chain.

Initial findings of the multi-phase effort are expected to be presented at a Maritime Data Summit in the spring.