One way or another U.S. harbors may get more money for maintaining shipping channels this year.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 293 to 127 in favor of H.R. 4348, the 2012 Surface Transportation Extension Act. The bill will extend by three months past June 30 funding for transportation and transit projects and includes a provision that would result in additional funding for harbor maintenance.
Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., R-La., said the law includes a modified version of H.R. 104, the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, which has won wide bipartisan support. It calls for full spending of funds collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax.
“Passage of H.R. 4348 with the Boustany amendment represents further progress in requiring that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund monies all be spent on dredging each year,” said Eugene Caldwell, president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, a large labor/management coalition that promotes waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, in a statement.
Historically only about half the funds collected by the tax and placed into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is actually spent on maintenance. As a result, a huge surplus has built up in the trust fund and the balance has been used to reduce the federal deficit. The balance in the HMTF is expected to hit $7 billion this year.
Boustany said according to the Army Corps of Engineers “almost 30 percent of our nation’s ports are hindered because of inadequate channel depths attributed to a lack of proper dredging. This amendment guarantees the total amount available for spending from the HMTF each fiscal year is equal to the HMTF receipts as estimated by the president’s budget for that year.”
Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said passage of the surface transportation bill “will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate.”
The extension bill, which passed 293-127, also contains a provision that would allow the Keystone XL oil pipeline to proceed.
But the White House said
Tuesday the president would likely veto the House legislation. In a statement of administration policy, it said “because this bill circumvents a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline before a new route has been submitted and assessed, the president’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto this legislation.”
Even if the bill is vetoed, ports could still see more funding for dredging this year.
The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday approved its fiscal year 2013 funding bill for the Corps of Engineers, which calls for a $1 billion draw from the HMTF, compared to the $848 million requested by President Obama in his fiscal year 2013 budget.
Kurt Nagle, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities, said "while still less than the need for full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), this funding level marks a significant achievement in AAPA's longstanding efforts to ensure that the HMT is fully utilized to maintain our nation's federal navigation channels at their authorized, and required, dimensions."
AAPA said annual revenue collected from the HMT is about $1.5 billion. — Chris Dupin