Election creates new hurdles for the inland waterways industry

Now that the election is over, what will it mean for the maritime industry?

Looking ahead to the new 112th Congress that will take its place in January, things may be tougher for the brownwater sector. With the House to be controlled by the Republicans, and the Democrats still holding a majority in the Senate, many expect more gridlock and inactivity. In addition, smaller budgets are expected in federal programs important to the maritime sector.

The November midterm election saw the maritime community lose several friends, among them Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who championed many of the waterway industry’s interests, and Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., a big supporter of the Jones Act and the tug-and-barge industry. There will now be over 100 new members of the House and Senate that the industry will have to educate about the importance of the waterways to the national economy.

“We are likely to face larger hurdles in building strong congressional support for the Jones Act, securing needed policy changes and funding to modernize the inland waterways infrastructure and establishing a uniform national framework for the regulation of vessel discharges,” Tom Allegretti, president of the American Waterways Operators , wrote in a post-election letter to members.

A big concern to the industry was a post-election statement from Republican leaders that they will oppose any bills that contain earmarks. This could directly impact individual waterways projects contained in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which has been under consideration this year by Congress. An across-the-board ban on earmarks “would hurt many meritorious water projects,” said Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference .

The stern anti-tax-increase position of the GOP could also make it harder to win approval of the waterway industry’s proposed capital development funding plan, which calls for an increase in the per-gallon fuel tax that barge companies pay to fund inland waterway infrastructure projects.

Despite such challenges, Cornel Martin, president of the Waterways Council Inc., a public policy group that advocates a properly funded and maintained inland waterways system, said there are still many waterways supporters in Congress, and it’s unlikely lawmakers will abandon funding for waterways infrastructure because it is very important to economic development, jobs and international trade.

“It won’t be easy [dealing with all the new members and the new political climate]and we will have a lot of work ahead, but there has to be a solution,” Martin said. “Doing nothing to improve our waterways infrastructure is not acceptable to us as a nation.”




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