Washington Watch

Pamela Glass Pennsylvania lawmaker to head up transportation committee

December 11, 2012

In January, there will be a new captain in the wheelhouse when it comes to legislative oversight of the workboat industry.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., has been selected to lead the influential House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which shapes laws that affect the operation and funding of the nation’s waterways system. Shuster will assume the post when the new Congress convenes in January. He replaces Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who must step down due to leadership term limits imposed by House Republicans.

This could bode well for the workboat industry. Although Shuster served as chairman of the railroads subcommittee, he has taken an interest in the waterways and hails from Pennsylvania, which has a big economic stake in having a well funded, smoothly operating inland system.

Shuster, whose father Bud chaired the House Transportation committee in the 1990s and is now retired, has toured several aging locks and dams and worked closely with the American Waterways Operators on several issues before the full committee. He visited the Chicamauga Lock on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, Tenn., last March, and observed barging operations along the Monongahela River in the Pittsburgh area in September, taking a ride on a Campbell Transportation barge and visiting the Charleroi Lock and Dam.

Since being selected chairman of the Transportation Committee, Shuster has said that he favors reforming the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to improve how lock and dam projects are funded, and that raising taxes on the barge industry to pay for infrastructure improvements could be an option. It’s not clear whether this means he would endorse the proposed increase in the diesel fuel tax included in an industry-supported plan to reform waterways funded. Raising those taxes has been a sticky point for other Republicans.

In several press interviews, Shuster stated that one of his top priorities in the new Congress would be passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the vehicle for the nation’s waterways policy.

Shuster will face some daunting transportation infrastructure and funding issues that will most certainty test his Republican inclinations to cut spending and limit tax increases.

It will be interesting to watch how his leadership evolves on waterways funding and policies, and to what extent he will broaden his interest and friendship with the workboat industry.

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