Barge industry gets big win

Call it an early Christmas present for the barge industry.

Looks like Congress, which will end its lame duck session early next week, has dropped a Deepwater Horizon oil spill bill that would have been harmful to barge operators and other maritime industries.

The legislation, proposed in the wake of the Gulf spill, would have had unintended consequences on maritime companies by doubling liability limits under OPA ‘90 and allowing unlimited punitive damages for maritime torts.

Barge operators, Jones Act supporters, passenger vessel and cruise ship operators, and the fishing industry mounted campaigns over the past several months to convince lawmakers that the maritime industry shouldn’t become “collateral” damage in the rush to reform offshore oil drilling safety and operating practices.

Instead, Congress is pursing a pared down oil spill bill that will omit the most onerous provisions to the maritime operators.

“This is a big win for the barge industry,” Christopher Coakley, vice president of legislative affairs at the American Waterways Operators told me on Wednesday. “Our grassroots lobbying beat back [what could have been serious]erosion of admiralty laws.”

He said the maritime community argued that the bills being considered in the House and Senate would result in lost jobs, would hurt businesses and are unnecessary.

But the story isn’t over. Now maritime groups must focus on a new Congress — 20 percent of which will be new members come January — and make sure that legislation similar to what they just fought against doesn’t get floated again next year.

That will be a good New Year’s resolution for 2011.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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