The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), held a hearing today to review the status of regulations by the United States Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and how such regulations impact the maritime industry.
The following is the statement of Chairman LoBiondo:
"The Subcommittee is meeting today to review regulations affecting the maritime industry. We are interested in how the implementation of these regulations is impacting vessel safety, the flow of commerce through our ports, and the ability to grow jobs in the maritime sector.
"The Coast Guard has broad authority to regulate maritime commerce, including establishing and enforcing rules to ensure mariner safety and vessel and facility security. The Coast Guard and the EPA share extensive authority to write regulations for the protection of the environment. With such vast authority comes great responsibility to regulate industry in a fair and reasonable way. This hearing will focus on ensuring that these agency's rulemakings are just that: fair and reasonable.
"Maritime commerce is essential to the U.S. economy. While regulations must address concerns related to safety, security, and stewardship, they must also balance the importance of maintaining the free flow of maritime commerce. Domestic shipping alone is responsible for over 500,000 American jobs and $100 billion in annual economic output. In addition, 90 percent of all global trade and over 25 percent of our Gross Domestic Product moves via the sea. With the economy still in a fragile state and unemployment at record levels, it is imperative the federal government foster an atmosphere where our maritime industry can compete and expand.
"To that end, I am concerned about the cost and impact of several recent and forthcoming rulemakings that will affect the maritime sector. Specifically, rules requiring fishing vessel certification and examinations, the installation of ballast water treatment systems aboard vessels, and the establishment of methods to reduce air emissions from vessels could have tremendous impacts on the economy. If these and other rules are not written and executed in a common sense manner, I am concerned they could make it financially impossible to operate a vessel in U.S. waters.
"We need to ensure the safety of commercial fishing, but we need to do so in a way that maintains the economic viability of this industry for vessel owners and operators. The Coast Guard has already said on record that it does not have the resources to meet the looming October 15th deadline to conduct fishing vessel examinations. If the Service still believes that it cannot meet this deadline, then we need a clear answer on what the impact will be on the industry on October 16th so we can take appropriate action to ensure that thousands of fishermen are not forced out of work.
"Ballast water regulations are a major concern for this Subcommittee. Currently, the Coast Guard and the EPA have developed separate regulations under two different federal laws to govern the discharge of ballast water. And although the agencies have worked together to try to reach uniformity, the programs still differ in implementation dates, vessels covered, geographic reach, enforcement, and penalties for non compliance. And this will only become less uniform and more confusing and burdensome for vessel owners as each individual state adds its own discharge requirements on top of the EPA's program. Under the EPA's current program, 29 states and tribes have added their own differing discharge standards. I think it is completely unreasonable to ask vessel operators to comply with 2 federal standards and as many as 29 different, contradictory, and unachievable state and tribal standards. The situation is out of control. Some of these states plan to enforce ballast water discharge standards in the next year for which no treatment technology has yet been invented. The Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act, which originated in this Subcommittee and passed in the House, will correct these issues by creating a uniform national standard for ballast water. I strongly encourage our colleagues in the other body to show their understanding of the gravity of this situation by adopting the bill as soon as possible
"I am also concerned about the implementation of the North America Emissions Control Area. Beginning August 1st, vessels transiting the U.S. EEZ will need to burn lower sulfur fuel. While I understand the critical importance of improving the air quality in our coastal regions, I am concerned the EPA and Coast Guard have yet to establish a process on how they will deal with vessels whose engines cannot burn the lower sulfur fuels; or vessels that cannot acquire the new fuel because it is not widely available; or vessels seeking to achieve the same air quality improvements through alternative compliance methods and foreign equivalences. Finally, I am concerned the agencies did not properly consider the economic impact this rule will have on smaller vessels that must travel entirely within the EEZ. It seems to me that both agencies have a lot of work to do in the next three months, if they expect to implement the new rules in a fair manner.
"Finally, I am concerned over ongoing delays in the processing of merchant mariner credentials and inefficiencies in the National Maritime Center's medical certification process. This issue is especially important to me, as these credentials are essentially a mariner's ticket to work and bureaucratic delays have a direct negative impact on those who keep our economy moving at sea. I hope our witnesses can explain what steps they are taking to improve the system."