Washington, D.C.—With historically low water levels along the Mississippi River, the White House convened a virtual meeting with industry leaders and senior government officials who discussed around-the-clock dredging by key agencies, employing safety limitations on waterway access and maintaining navigational signals and buoy markings for safe and steady navigation of the river system.
Support that agricultural shippers have available, such as the ability to work with grain elevators and warehouses to license emergency and temporary storage space for commodities deemed storable, also was discussed, according to a White House readout of the meeting.
CEOs provided an overview of the industries, commodities and jobs that rely daily on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Agencies represented at the meeting included the departments of Agriculture, Energy and Transportation as well as the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, the two agencies that dredge and mark river channels.
The impact of funds provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also was discussed. According to the Biden administration, more than $4 billion from that law will be invested toward the improved operations and maintenance of U.S. ports and waterways.
The White House said the meeting concluded with all sides agreeing to continue close coordination and communication across government and industry to maintain the smooth functioning of the Mississippi River system while minimizing disruptions to commerce.
Port Infrastructure Grants
The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced more than $703 million to improve 41 port facilities in 22 states and one territory through the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program. (See related stories this issue.)
DOT said the projects will be funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and additional congressional appropriations and will benefit inland river ports, coastal seaports and Great Lakes ports.
“So many of the goods we all count on, from appliances to furniture to clothes, move through our nation’s ports on their way to us,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, adding record levels of funding are being provided this year by the IIJA to improve port infrastructure.
Supply chain reliability will be boosted through increased port capacity and resilience, more efficient operations, reduced port emissions and new workforce opportunities, DOT stated.
The awards also include nearly $100 million for port projects that will advance offshore wind deployment, in support of President Biden’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, which DOT said is enough to power 10 million homes, support 77,000 jobs and spur private investment up and down the supply chain.
A key Republican senator condemned as unlawful and unnecessary the Biden administration’s waivers of the Jones Act for petroleum and liquid natural gas shipments to Puerto Rico following a hurricane.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi also called the waivers a direct contradiction to the U.S. government’s longstanding expressed interest in protecting American industry.
“Both waivers were issued for vessels that had already left port and were in route to Puerto Rico, sending a direct signal to foreign companies that our current political leadership is willing to suspend traditional norms and bipartisan support for the American maritime industry during times of crisis,” the senator stated in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who announced the waivers on September 28 and October 16.
“When reviewing future Jones Act waiver requests, I urge you to consider the implications of unnecessary waivers, abide by the law and put the domestic maritime industry ahead of foreign competition,” Wicker wrote. Wicker serves as the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
His condemnation of the waivers follows similar comments from a bipartisan group of leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Department of Homeland Security did not provide a response to that criticism but indicated it would respond to congressional correspondence through official channels.