Business, Freight News, Sea

US Ports Fare Well in Congressional Year-End Legislation

[ January 6, 2021   //   ]

U.S. members of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) – the unified and collective voice of America’s seaports – are pleased that many port-related programs championed by AAPA and its members are included in the FY 2021 Omnibus appropriation package and in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Among the most noteworthy port-related programs in the year-end Omnibus spending bill is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, which includes critical Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) spending reforms long advocated by AAPA, together with the first-ever drawdowns from the $9.3 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). Within the NDAA is authorization of the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program, or MTSERP. Although the MTSERP program wasn’t funded in either the Omnibus year-end appropriations package or the second COVID-19 stimulus bill, MTSERP is the first-of-its-kind mechanism available to ports for getting federal funds appropriated and distributed as direct relief following disasters, including pandemics such as COVID-19.
“While we’re ecstatic about the hard-fought WRDA reforms being included in the year-end FY 2021 appropriations package, we’re disappointed that relief for ports and those in the maritime industry, hard hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t included,” said Christopher J. Connor, AAPA’s president and CEO. “That said, establishment of the MTSERP as part of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act was a major victory, and with it we’ll continue to work with policymakers and our maritime partners to bring much needed relief to the industry.”
He added: “Although WRDA and MTSERP are the most likely newsmakers for ports in Congress’ end-of-year legislation, the Omnibus provides a host of funding for many of the association’s ongoing priorities that will go a long way to enhancing port infrastructure development (waterside and landside), providing investments in multimodal transportation, and ensuring timely inspection of goods moving through America’s ports.”
Below is a brief breakdown of how AAPA priorities fared in the end-of-year FY 2021 Omnibus appropriations package:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
• Coastal Navigation – $2.6 billion – This amount represents robust funding for a wide range of studies, construction projects and maintenance work.
• Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund – $1.68 billion – Funding increases by $50 million over FY 2020 appropriated level.
• Construction – $911 million – This allows continued work on 10 coastal navigation projects across the country.
• Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Balance – $500 million (rising incrementally to $1.5B in Year 10) – This is the first-ever allowable draw-down from the HMTF accumulated balance to address navigation maintenance backlogs, negotiated as part of the landmark WRDA 2020 legislation.
• Donor and Energy Transfer – $50 million – This continues the funding for this program at the FY 2020 level.
U.S. Department of Transportation
• Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Program (formerly TIGER) – $1 billion – With passage of this bill, these funds will be made available for BUILD grants, increasing eligible port investments and leveraging local and state investments in ports.
• Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) – $1 billion – With these funds, the Secretary of Transportation is directed to invest in a variety of transportation modes – including port infrastructure improvements and multimodal infrastructure projects
• Maritime Administration (MARAD)
o Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) – $230 million – PIDP funds will be made available for a number of purposes, including gate improvements, road and rail improvements both within and connecting to ports, berth improvements, cargo operations improvements, and in utilities necessary for safe operations (or any combination of these purposes). This appropriation represents a slight increase over the prior year and is a significant improvement over the Administration’s efforts to zero out the program. Of the $230 million total, $205 million is set aside for coastal seaports or Great Lakes ports. AAPA considers this level of funding a victory, and something to build upon in coming years.
• Federal Railway Administration (FRA)
o Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program – $375 million – The appropriation increased by $50 million over the previous year’s level, allowing for additional investment in various railroad infrastructure projects. In previous years, ports have used these funds to expand rail capacity and replace structurally deficient bridges.
o Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program – This program is authorized so long as any direct loan or loan guarantees remain outstanding, and includes language to ensure repayment of Credit Risk Premiums to those who have satisfied RRIF loan agreements.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
• Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) – $100 million – This amount represents level funding, but is more than $73 million above the President’s request.  AAPA provides annual data showing the as-of-yet unmet need for security funding at ports, but the level funding – above the President’s request – is comparable to the levels in other FEMA security grant programs.
• Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – $104 million – This amount is specifically for hiring an additional (up-to) 610 CBP officers and agriculture specialists, consistent with AAPA’s request.
Environmental Protection Agency
• Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants – $90 million – These grants are funded at identical levels to the prior year, continuing to make available grants to protect human health and improve air quality by reducing harmful emissions from diesel engines.
• National Estuary Program – $31.822 million – This program is slightly increased from previous levels, with at least $1.5 million of these funds to be awarded competitively.