Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Lawmakers Present Proposals For WRDA Projects

Washington, D.C.—A top Virginia port official singled out the navigation of channels as he urged a key House committee to prioritize passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2024.

“That is critical to most ports,” said Steve Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority.

He added, “Just about every coastal port has some dredging requirements going forward.”

Speaking to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the status of transportation, Edwards described WRDA as essential to maintaining U.S. port competitiveness.

He also pushed for the modernization of certain laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and freeing up money made available in WRDA 2020 from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

To prepare for WRDA 2024, a separate Members’ Day Hearing also was held to allow lawmakers to present their proposals for the popular law.

Nearly 50 members submitted testimony, according to a list on the committee’s website.

In a news alert to its members, the National Waterways Conference (NWC) said the House committee has extended its WRDA portal deadline for lawmakers until January 26.

“This extension applies to studies, programs and policy ideas,” NWC stated. “If you haven’t already, now is the opportune time to contact your member of Congress to support and facilitate these ideas.”

Temporary Funding Measure

After first balking at the idea, top congressional leaders conceded another temporary funding measure was needed to avoid a government shutdown.

Drawing a Senate vote of 68 to 13 on a procedural motion, H.R. 2872 once again included two deadlines—March 1 and March 8—on keeping federal agencies funded.

Funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maritime Administration would expire on the first deadline with funding for other agencies running through the second deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the roll call as a strong, bipartisan vote, a “clear signal that majorities in both parties in the Senate want to pass this funding extension.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who correctly had predicted another temporary funding deal would be necessary, also expressed optimism.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said meanwhile work continues on negotiating the 12 full-year funding bills for fiscal year 2024.

“It’s critical we get it right and pass the strongest possible funding bills, and soon,” Murray said.

When the agreement on the stopgap funding measure was announced, both Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) did not see the need for another short-term continuing resolution (CR).

That plan quickly fell apart as a group of hard-right Republicans objected.

With the slimmest House Republican majority in history, Johnson was expected to need Democratic votes to pass another CR.

Global Supply Chains

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has scheduled an informal public hearing on February 7 to examine how attacks emanating from Yemen in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden regions are impacting commercial shipping and global supply chains.

To be held in the Surface Transportation Board Hearing Room at 395 E St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20423, the hearing will be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person, with logistics to be provided in a future announcement

In addition to steps taken in response to these events and the resulting effects, the FMC stated, the hearing will allow it to gather information and identify any new issues related to these disruptions subject to its statutes, such as implementing contingency fees and surcharges.

Interested parties, intended to include representatives of common carriers and shippers, have until January 31 to contact the FMC via Secretary@FMC.gov to ask about becoming a participant in the hearing or sharing information.

Coast Guard Icebreaking

Reports by the Coast Guard on its icebreaking efforts to keep waterways open and safe for commercial ships during winter lack data that could better communicate the resources it needs, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The federal watchdog agency pointed out that the Coast Guard has identified an aging fleet as a risk for future icebreaking efforts.

“To address these risks, the Coast Guard determined that it would need more than $3 billion to recapitalize its medium and light domestic icebreaking fleet and procure a second heavy icebreaker, plus funds for related port infrastructure,” GAO stated in its report released January 16.

GAO said the Coast Guard collects information it could use to improve the transparency of its icebreaking performance and articulate resource needs and tradeoffs, but its analysis does not reflect the full scope of the assets required to fulfill the mission.

Specifically, GAO explained, the Coast Guard excludes the ice-capable buoy tenders that serve as a stopgap for the aging icebreaking vessels when they are not available due to maintenance.

GAO recommended in its report that the Coast Guard use the data it already collects to report to Congress more complete performance information, resource needs and tradeoffs.