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AWO pushes for Subchapter M Final Rule by mid-2014


The American Waterways Operators (AWO) pressed Congress Tuesday to get the long-awaited towing vessel inspection rule published before the current Coast Guard commandant’s watch is over next year.

Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. was four-year term began in mid-2010.

The rule offers a “historic opportunity to take safety in our industry to a new level,” much like the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA ’90) did for tankers, AWO president Thomas A. Allegretti told the House subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Without it, operators “face real vulnerability,” he said, citing a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation following a 1998 accident that all towing vessels implement a safety management system. A tow pushed by the Anne Holly allided with the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis causing $11 million in damages.

Safety management systems are a key component of the Subchapter M rule and, Allegretti said, also may have prevented the massive 2008 oil spill on the Lower Mississippi River when the towboat Mel Oliver pushed a loaded barge into the path of the 600' tanker Tintomara, slicing the barge in half.

The rule — one of the most significant for the towing industry since operators were required to be licensed in 1972 — was first required in the 2004 Maritime Transportation Safety Act. It covers about 6,000 towing vessels. Compliance will cost operators an estimated $14 million to $18 million annually over a 10-year phase-in period. Twenty-five percent of a fleet must obtain a certificate of inspection each year.

“We are very frustrated that this congressionally mandated rulemaking has taken so long, and that there is no clear end in sight,” Allegretti said.

He pointed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Coast Guard’s parent, as one of the problems. “We are very concerned that the Coast Guard will finish its work on the Subchapter M rulemaking, only to have it languish at the department,” he said.

The notice of proposed rulemaking was sent to DHS in early 2009 and not published until August of 2011, more than two years later. AWO wants the Coast Guard to send the final rule to DHS for review and completion this year, so it can be cleared by the Office of Management and Budget “on this commandant’s watch.”

“We are aggressively adjudicating the 3,000 comments we received,” Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, Coast Guard assistant commandant for prevention policy, told the committee. “There’s somewhat of a balance between a quick rule and a good rule.”

The Coast Guard has cut its rulemaking projects from 97 in 2008 to 68 today, he said, but “we are not where we want to be.” He expects a backlog of 76 by the end of the year.





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