Marine Link
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Taking Legislators To Task

AWO Fights to Ensure Long-Term Health of Barge & Towing Industry The need for effective legislative advocacy — representing the interests of the barge and towing industry to Congress, federal agencies and state and local governments — has been a preeminent concern of the American Waterways Operators (AWO). The timelessness of this concern is underscored by the recent grounding of barge North Cape off Rhode Island and the subsequent spill of approximately 800,000 gallons of home heating oil. This incident provides a vivid reminder to the barge and towing industry: if we fail to make the case to Congress regarding the industry's excellent overall safety record, we run the serious risk of being unnecessarily burdened with ineffective and unwarranted laws that are likely to fall short of their goals in terms of improving marine safety and environmental protection. Thus, in addition to being a leader in marine safety, the barge and towing industry must also be the leading advocate for effective, value adding, common sense legislation which addresses and solves real problems. Beyond this proactive advocacy approach, industry must continue to keep a watchful eye out for other legislative initiatives, such as efforts to abolish the Jones Act, which has enabled a vibrant and cost-effective domestic merchant marine industry.

AWO's five-year strategic plan, AWO 2000, clearly defines advocacy as a key element of the association's mission. That plan affirms that "AWO needs to be the lead advocate in promoting sound legislative and regulatory decisions by federal and state governments." Since adopting this plan nearly two years ago, AWO's Board of Directors and association members have stepped forward to meet the challenges of AWO 2000 amid a changing legislative and industrial landscape.

AWO Outreach Targets Navigation Safety Initiatives In addition to changes in the House and Senate leadership and majority party status following 1994's national elections, each committee and subcommittee in Congress elected new chairpersons, staff directors, counsels and key legislative staff. The House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee was eliminated, while other committees traditionally important to the industry were restructured, creating a much different legislative process than had existed for several decades. Because this drive to change the role of government complimented AWO's forward-looking agenda, the association was able to immediately initiate targeted advocacy efforts to implement Boardapproved issue action plans in several areas.

The first issue concerned completing industry, agency and congressional efforts initiated during the previous Congress to implement a consensus regulatory program aimed at improving navigational safety.

AWO argued that because the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) were well into the process of implementing the consensus safety regulations called for in the 1994 Towing Vessel Navigational Safety Act legislation, the new Congress had no reason to bog down that process by drafting new legislation and holding new hearings. Maritime leaders in Congress and the USCG concurred with AWO's view that initiating a new legislative inquiry would be counterproductive to enhanced safety, and that the public would be better served by encouraging the USCG and industry to work together to complete the pending safety initiatives. Taking Action On User Fees Another issue addressed by AWO in the new Congress was that of increased or expanded commercial navigation user fees for inland waterways. Of particular concern were renewed efforts by the administration through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to press the Corps of Engineers to expand the use of existing waterways fuel taxes — which by law already cover 50 percent of construction and rehabilitation expenditures to include operation and maintenance (O&M) costs as well. Given the emphasis on balancing the budget, it was clear that the industry's vulnerability on user fees, which in political parlance equate to spending reductions, would most likely arise in this budget process. Therefore, our immediate lobbying focus was directed at the budget writing committees, now chaired by Pete Domenici (R- N.M.) and John Kasich (ROhio) in the Senate and House, respectively.

Unfortunately, our legislative assessment was accurate, and Chairman Domenici's initial draft budget proposal did include a $2.5 billion inland waterways user tax proposal, which would greatly expand the scope and level of the industry's fuel tax. Fortunately, a majority of Budget Committee members objected to the chairman's proposal and it was dropped from the budget bill prior to its formal release. Upon learning of the Senate Budget Committee's strong objections to the user fee proposal, House Budget bill drafters reportedly dropped the proposal from their potential revenue-raising options list.

While the 1995 congressional budget/user fee lobbying skirmishes were taking place, work was also ongoing to prepare for a more decisive user fee battle anticipated for this year. In order to ensure that AWO would have accurate economic data which would justify the current level and authorized uses of the inland waterways fuel tax levy, work was completed in September 1995 on an AWONational Waterways Conference study by Mercer Management Consulting, Inc., titled The Importance of Inland and Intracoastal Waterways to State Economies. This analysis, initiated in 1994, provides information on the impact of the inland waterways on the economies of 26 states.

More than 120 national and state waterways, agriculture, mining and other groups have endorsed the study, which will provide empirical data upon which our lobbying/ educational efforts will be based.

Tracing The P a t t e r n Of J o n es Act Advocacy Defense of the Jones Act — which r e s e r v e s participation in the U.S. coastwise trade to U.S.- o w n e d , U . S . - c r e w e d , and U.S.- built vessels is a p r e e m i - nent issue for AWO. Beginning about a year ago, opposition to the Jones Act coalesced with the formation of the anti-Jones Act "Jones Act Reform Coalition," a shipperbacked group led by former Federal Maritime Commissioner Rob Quartel which seeks the enactment of legislation that would effectively eliminate U.S. cabotage laws.

AWO and its allies in the domestic maritime industry rallied quickly to meet this emerging challenge, relying heavily on the groundwork laid over the past two years by the AWO-led Jones Act Coalition and Steering Group. Formed in the wake of the 1993 leak of a draft recommendation from the staff of the Vice President's National Performance Review, which called for elimination of the Jones Act and related U.S. cabotage laws, the coalition brought together the barge and towing industry, the passenger vessel industry, Great Lakes carriers, and the domestic tanker, liner, and the offshore supply vessel and dredging industries in a common effort to defend the Jones Act against future challenges from any quarter. In February 1995, the coalition completed work on a comprehensive research project which highlights the economic, environmental, and national security benefits which the Jones Act provides to the nation.

AWO and its coalition partners worked throughout the spring and summer of 1995 to defend the Jones Act in the public policy arena, meeting with and seeking support from key members of Congress, the Secretary of Transportation, industry audi- ences and shipper groups. In October 1995, the coalition also unveiled a comprehensive rebuttal to the claims put forth by anti- Jones Act forces. The document, titled The Jones Act: Fact and Fiction, was sent to every member of the Senate and the House of Representatives under the signatures of six national trade associations representing Jones Act vessel operators and the three principal associations representing the U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry. The groundwork laid by AWO's Jones Act Coalition and Steering Group provided a solid foundation for the formation of the Maritime Cabotage Task Force, a broadbased coalition established in September 1995 which brought together carrier, shipyard, and maritime and shipyard labor interests, along with Jones Act supporters in other industries and transportation modes to form a united front in defense of the cabotage laws.

In keeping with AWO 2000's emphasis on the value of coalitions as a means of leveraging the association's advocacy resources, AWO is a funding member and an active participant in the task force, which is spearheading the defense of the Jones Act during the ongoing second session of the 104th Congress.

AWO Mission Emphasizes Legislative Advocacy The ability of AWO to mount an effective response in the wake of the North Cape spill in Rhode Island has underscored the value of the industry's overall advocacy program. It is unclear how great an impact this accident will have on the legislative process. AWO has already organized a full-scale outreach effort including meetings with key congressional staff involved in legislative responses to the spill.

These moves are part of AWO's proactive stance on legislative advocacy And given the unpredictable nature of legislative change in the mid-90s, these broadbased efforts to provide effective, dynamic advocacy are perhaps more vital today than at any time in the association's 51 years of service to its members.

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