A group of 25 U.S. senators are calling on the White House's Office of Management and Budget to increase spending for dredging harbors to their authorized dimensions.
In a letter
to Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of OMB, the senators said Section 1536 of the surface transportation reauthorization act “lays out a clear statement by Congress that ‘the Administration should request full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for operating and maintaining the navigation channels of the United States.’”
The letter is signed by both Republican and Democratic senators.
The letter said at the beginning of fiscal year 2014 the balance of the trust fund is estimated to be $8.098 billion and urges the government to include in the 2014 budget for operation and maintenance of federal harbors and ports, the same amount of money that is estimated to be collected for the HMTF through the Harbor Maintenance Tax.
The balance in the trust fund has grown because the government has only spent about half of what is collected from the tax for dredging, using the remainder to help reduce the deficit.
Citing Army Corps of Engineers' figures, the senators say the harbors that handle 90 percent of the nation’s commercial traffic are dredged to their authorized depths and widths only 35 percent of the time.
“Inadequate funding has resulted in channels getting narrower and shallower due to inadequate dredging, which has resulted in ships having to light-load, increasing the cost of shipping, the risk of vessel groundings, collisions, and pollution incidents. This situation is totally unacceptable,” the senators wrote.
“During these times of economic challenge, we can no longer afford to ignore the will of Congress and to flout the purpose for which these funds are collected. These waterways are simply too important to our nation’s commerce and international competitiveness for this situation to continue,” the letter concluded. - Chris Dupin