U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), Chairman of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, today applauded House passage of H.R. 2838, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Authorization Act of 2011," a three-year authorization of the Coast Guard's budget which includes a number of provisions important to South Jersey.
Conscious of finding taxpayer savings and reducing redundancies wherever possible, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Act of 2011" authorizes $8.49 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2012, $8.6 billion for FY 2013 and $8.7 billion for FY 2014. It would also reform Coast Guard administration while improving operations and reducing inefficiencies by consolidating reporting requirements on Coast Guard acquisitions; mandating performance milestones prior to acquisition of new assets; and, repealing out-of-date authorities deemed unnecessary by the Service.
HOUSING & PARITY ISSUES
Chairman LoBiondo previously led the effort to eliminate discrepancies in benefits between members of the Coast Guard and members of the Armed Services, including in the areas of expanded child care services, improved housing, Chaplain-led family programs, enhanced retention and medical travel reimbursement. H.R. 2838 builds on those efforts by making several other changes that will give the Coast Guard and its personnel greater parity with the Department of Defense (DoD. It also requires the Coast Guard to report to Congress on the condition of service member housing -- a significant issue for those stationed at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
"Better housing for members of the Coast Guard continues to be a high priority for me and those stationed in Cape May. While the Coast Guard has been hesitant to dedicate the necessary resources, it remains unacceptable that our service men and women and their families are forced to live in outdated, substandard and sometimes nearly dilapidated housing," said LoBiondo. "I continue to explore available options that will assist the Coast Guard in making the right choice for our service members."
COMMERCIAL FISHING PROVISIONS
The legislation would also conform dockside examinations for commercial fishing vessels to the standards and timeframes of other sea-worthy vessels. Currently, all 35,000 commercial fishing vessels in the United States are required to be inspected by the Coast Guard by October 15, 2012 or they cannot leave the dock. The Coast Guard has publicly said that it will not be able to meet the October 2012 deadline which will mean thousands of commercial fishermen will be put out of work.
"At my direction, the Coast Guard subcommittee has fully focused on strengthening our nation's maritime sector, a critical source of jobs and economic output. In South Jersey, commercial fishing operations have long been one of the leading employers, making Cape May the second-largest port by commercial value on the East Coast. My legislation would ensure thousands of fishermen are not put out of work because of an unachievable and discriminatory timeline," said LoBiondo.
BALLAST WATER PROVISIONS
Attached to the "Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2011" is LoBiondo's "Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act" (H.R. 2840) which would set a single national standard for the discharge of ballast water which is technologically achievable and enforceable.
Currently the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have developed separate regulations under two different federal laws to govern the discharge of ballast water. The EPA's ballast water program under the Clean Water Act is especially burdensome, as it allows each individual state to add state requirements on top of the federal regulations. Twenty-nine states and tribes have done just that. As a result, small maritime businesses are forced to comply with differing and often conflicting ballast water standards for each of these 29 states and tribal areas.
LoBiondo's legislation establishes the same single standard set by the International Maritime Organization. Once enacted, all vessels will be required to continue to conduct ballast water exchange until a Coast Guard certified treatment system is installed aboard the vessel. Furthermore, recreational vessels along with fishing and small commercial vessels will continue to be exempted from the permit requirement for incidental discharges.
"While this provision of the Clean Water Act functions well for factories that are fixed in one location, it simply does not work for vessels engaged in interstate or international commerce. It is unreasonable to ask vessel operators to comply with 2 federal standards and as many as 29 different state and tribal standards, several of which are not even achievable. A single, national ballast water standard will ensure commerce continues to flow along our waterways while protecting the hundreds of thousands of jobs the maritime industry supports," said LoBiondo.
LoBiondo's "Piracy Suppression Act of 2011" (H.R. 2839), which was previously approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, was included in the "Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2011" passed by the House today. Among the key provisions of the legislation are authorizing armed security aboard U.S. flagged vessels carrying federal government cargoes; expanding the existing training program to help mariners prepare and utilize acceptable means of defending themselves in the event of a pirate attack; and, requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on U.S. efforts to track ransom payments and the movement of money throughout Somali piracy networks.
LoBiondo previously authored legislation to provide civil liability protection to U.S. merchant mariners who use force to defend a U.S. vessel against a pirate attack. Those provisions were signed into law by President Obama last fall.
Introduced on September 2nd, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Act of 2011" (H.R. 2838) with the above provisions and attached bills was passed by voice vote and will move on to the Senate for consideration.