Marine Link
Tuesday, August 9, 2022

AWO's Regulatory Agenda: Challenge & Change

towing industry today reveals more than a few perennials: vessel inspection, infrastructure development and funding, the qualifications and licensing of towing vessel "The more things change," runs measure of truth to the timeworn personnel preservation of the the old cliche, "the more they stay phrase. A cursory glance at the is- â„Ēt l o n s cabotage laws. But the reguthe same," and there is no small sues that challenge the barge and !a t ° r y environment in which the ° industry now operates bears little resemblance to the climate which prevailed in 1944, the year of AWO's founding. Government regulation of American business has grown exponentially over the last half-century, with nearly 70,000 pages of new regulatory requirements published in the Federal Register last year alone, and the barge and towing industry is no stranger to this trend. The regulatory agendas mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) or the Clean Air Act Amendments of the same year would startle a visitor from decades ago. At the same time, years of divided government have fostered a climate in which Congress increasingly prescribes by legislation details which Jennifer A. Kelly would at one time have been left to the regulatory agencies to determine. The result is more government regulation, with less flexibility accorded the regulators.

Succeeding in this regulatory climate demands an approach to advocacy quite different from that of a half-century ago. Just saying no to regulation is not enough. A modern outreach to the federal government means seeking responsible solutions to recognized problems, combating ill-advised regulatory forays with a solid arsenal of fact and data, and working in partnership with government where suchtowing safety bill, which failed in the last hours of the 103rd Congress, are now being addressed through the regulatory process, pursuing legislation on barge safety now would be unnecessary and merely symbolic.

While the jurisdictional changes currently taking place within the Congress have yet to be fully completed, a major overhaul has already occurred. The House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, long home to barge and towing industryissues, was abolished in January.

Its Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Navigation, led by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.), has changedits name to the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Subcommittee, and is now part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (formerly Public Works) and is chared by Rep. Howard Coble (RN. C.). Both Reps. Tauzin and Coble led the fight for a consensusbased barge safety bill in the 103rd Congress.

Issues handled in t h e now defunct Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee have been spread among several committees. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will handle water resources, locks and dams, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, issues related to the Oil Pollution Act of1990, and Coast Guard and marine transportation issues. The National Security Committee (formerly Armed Services) has been given added jurisdiction over the Jones Act and maritime subsidy-related issues. To handle its new coastal maritime jurisdiction, the National Security Committee has formed a special panel, to be chaired by Rep.Herbert Bateman (R-Va.), previously in line to chair the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. The panel, to be empowered for six months, will be the initial House forum for considering any legislation needed to reform the nation's maritime programs. In part, it will address government subsidies provided to ocean carriers to operate under the U.S. flag with U.S. crews. It will also play a role in debating the recent OECD agreement to end shipbuilding subsidies by 1996.

Other House committees which hold jurisdiction over the barge and towing industry include the Resources Committee (formerly Natural Resources), which will be home to environmental issues such as endangered species and Alaska oil exports.

The Appropriations Committee will continue to handle all funding bills; the Ways and Means Committee will oversee all tax issues; and the Commerce Committee will focus on risk assessment, superfund, and the transportation of hazardous materials.

In the Senate, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will continue to handle all Coast Guard and maritime issues. The Environment and Public Works Committee will continue to oversee issues related to inland waterways infrastructure and endangered species. And, like the House, the Appropriations and Finance committees will focus on funding bills and tax bills/user fees, respectively. Rep. B u d Shuster(R-Pa.), newly appointed chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a key committee for the barge and towing industry, announced that during the first 100 days the committee and subcommittees will hold hearings to review "every law and program within the committee's jurisdiction, and will seek to identify budget savings, reduced unfunded mandates and regulatory burdens, and target potential a r e a s for privatization." Rep. Shuster also announced his intention to seek legislation to take various trust funds off-budget, including highway, aviation, harbor maintenance and inland waterways, that fall within the committee's jurisdiction. This would serve to insulate these funds from being used to finance other activities not authorized by the committee. Rep.

Shuster also reiterated his support for having the 4.3 cent per gallon tax imposed by the 1993 Budget Act, which now goes into the general treasury for deficit reduction, eventually redirected to go back into the specific trust finds. In other words, the 4.3 cents paid by the barge and towing industry would go back into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The fuel-user tax issue could find itself in a more vulnerable positionin the 104th Congress given that the effort to shrink government spending can often politically translate to proposals which instead raise tax. However, another big change being advocated by the Republicans concerns the way the government measures the financial-budgetary impact of tax proposals. Under the currently followed "static" interpretation of tax impacts — referred to in Washington as "scoring" — tax increases or decreases are viewed as having no impact on behavior. Thus, the 1993 proposed $1 per gallon increase in the barge and towing industry's fuel tax was scored to raise approximately $460 million per year based on the assumption that business activity fuel use would remain constant. To replace this traditional, and what many view as unrealistic, accounting mechanism, the Republicans are instead seeking to adopt what they assert would be a more realistic, real-world method of accounting called "dynamic scoring," which would develop and utilize revenue estimates based on expected economic activity resulting from the proposed tax cut/increase. Thus, how much the government would reduce spending by raising our fuel tax $1 per gallon would be calculated to include the impacts of diminished fuel use reflecting lost business and would also allow for the consideration of other economic impacts to consumers, farmers, etc., resulting from such a tax hike.

The Jones Act, a key underpinning of AWO's work, may well also find itself more vulnerable in the new Congress, particularly due to actions in the Senate. Acrimonious debate between maritime labor and farm state senators last year over maritime reform legislation has led those senators to conclude that it is time to carefully reexamine the maritime subsidy support system now in place and the costs of cargo preference to the U.S. taxpayer.

This issue is already set to come before the Senate Commerce Committee, led by Senator Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), early in the legislative session, and Senator Charles Grassley (D-Iowa) has indicated he may raise the issue during the budget debate.

Environmental legislation is an area in which the industry probably gained support in the Congressional shift. Environmental groups seeking to change the relative importance with which navigation is viewed when examining waterways systems needs, be it in the Missouri River Master Manual revisions or floodplain management legislation, should find a less sympathetic audience in the Republican Congress.

The Endangered Species Act reauthorization should similarly face far brighter prospects for inj ecting regulatory flexibility and economic realities into a law which many Republicans view as too restrictive and costly. The industry is currently working on an education campaign to bring these newly elected officials and the hundreds of new Congressional staffers up to speed on the vital role of the industry and its importance to the nation's economy.

Maritime Security History

Subscribe for
Maritime Reporter E-News

Maritime Reporter E-News is the maritime industry's largest circulation and most authoritative ENews Service, delivered to your Email five times per week