Washington Waves
Washington Waves

MarAd Awards $241 Million In Port Grants

Washington, D.C.—The White House first helped to promote more than $241 million in grant funding for 25 port facilities and only days later brought port envoy John Porcari to its briefing room to report progress in addressing supply chain challenges.

Authorized through the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), the grants are to improve ports in 19 states and one territory. (List of grant awards)

“U.S. maritime ports play a critical role in our supply chains,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the press announcement.

 “These investments in our nation’s ports will help support American jobs, efficient and resilient operations and faster delivery of goods to the American people.”

The administration again stressed its commitment to its Port Action Plan, which is to strengthen the supply chains.

Going forward, the administration added, the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $450 million annually in funding for the PIDP program for fiscal years 2022 through 2026, or a total of $2.25 billion.

That is roughly the same amount provided to ports under the Transportation Department-administered grant programs since the agency began providing funding to ports in 2009, the administration stated.

Supply Chain Actions

In his appearance in the briefing room, Porcari singled out several recent actions taken by ports to ease supply chain challenges.

They include those to boost U.S. agricultural exports, prioritize the movement of medical supplies and impose a new fee on long-dwelling empty containers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to build on the success of an earlier fee on import containers.

“We’ve seen significant progress,” said Porcari, whose official title is port envoy to the White House Supply Chain Task Force.

Asked about the impact of the Omicron variant, Porcari cited increased outages from certain workers.

“So far, that has not disrupted operations,” he said.

“As we stand here today, the ports and supply chains are operating at record levels.”

Porcari conceded the impact of the Omicron variant may continue to unfold and declined to say the supply chain pressures have peaked.

Build Back Better Negotiations

Talks on President Joe Biden’s massive Build Back Better legislation continued to be stalled after the Senate returned to the Capitol to convene the second session of the 117th Congress.

“There  [are] no negotiations going on at this time,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), told reporters.

One of the Democratic holdouts on the measure, Manchin said he has been very clear about his concerns on the topic and is not going to talk about it any more.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, made it just as clear he wanted negotiations to begin again.

“I believe the Biden administration will be having discussions with Manchin with his cooperation and participation on BBB as we move forward,” Schumer said as he and other key Democrats turned their attention to passing voting rights legislation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to dismiss any suggestion that voting rights legislation is now the priority for Democrats.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Psaki said, offering assurances the administration is in touch with senators and their staffs on Build Back Better while also working in lockstep with Schumer on the voting rights legislation, which she described as a huge priority for the president.

Nationwide Permits

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it will reissue 40 existing Nationwide Permits (NWPs) and issue one new NWP to authorize work in streams, wetlands and other waters of the United States under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.

Those 41 NWPs were not included in a rule published in January 2021, when 12 of the 52 existing NWPs were reissued and four of five new NWPs were issued.

“The updated permits are being finalized after a robust rulemaking process and were informed by extensive feedback from the public and other key stakeholders,” the Corps stated.

According to the agency’s announcement, the NWPs replace the 2017 versions of the permits and complete the rulemaking process to reissue the NWPs, which began in September 2020.

They take effect February 25 and are scheduled to expire on March 14, 2026.

“Our goals in updating, developing and authorizing these 41 nationwide permits are to enhance regulatory efficiency and provide clarity for the regulated public while protecting the aquatic environment,” said Maj. Gen. William “Butch” Graham, Corps deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations.

DOT Research Plans

The Department of Transportation requested public comments on the development of its Research, Development and Technology Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2022–2026.

 “Please help us shape our research plans at this pivotal moment in the transformation of the nation’s transportation system,” DOT stated in the Federal Register.

Comments are due by January 31, but DOT said those filed after that deadline will be considered to the extent practicable.

Respondents are encouraged to submit comments electronically via rdtplan@dot.gov but also can submit them by U.S. mail. Instructions can be found at www.regulations.gov.

Levee Safety Program

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are seeking input on their new National Levee Safety Program to improve levee management, reduce disaster suffering and improve the resiliency of communities behind levees.

The program has four major components: National Levee Safety Guidelines; Integrated Levee Management; National Levee Database and Data Collection; and Implementation Support.

Comments must be submitted by March 31 by either email or U.S. mail with instructions at www.regulations.gov.

The Corps also is expected to host seven meetings and four webinars to provide an overview of the program and opportunities for submitting feedback.

Visit www.leveesafety.org for information on the public meetings and webinars.

For additional information, contact Tammy Conforti at 202-365-6586.

FMC Policy Statements

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) issued policy statements providing new guidance to shippers and others on bringing complaints and addressing barriers identified by the trade community as disincentives to filing actions at the agency.

In the first policy statement, the FMC reiterated that associations may file a complaint alleging a prohibited act violation while protecting the interests of their members and shippers from potential retaliation.

In the second statement, the FMC explained that a party who brings an unsuccessful complaint is not automatically required to pay the other party’s attorney fees.

The FMC added it will look favorably upon complainants who raise non-frivolous claims in good faith, litigate zealously within the rules and comply with its orders.

In the third statement, the FMC emphasized that it broadly defines both who can bring a retaliation complaint as well as the types of shipper activity that is protected under the existing retaliation prohibitions.

This policy statement also addresses the proof necessary for certain retaliation complaints, the FMC stated.