If every time a truck crossed state lines that truck had to install new equipment, or if the driver had to follow different sets of confusing, conflicting, and costly regulations, the fact that the road was in perfect condition would negate- it the high cost and inefficiency? Of course not. The federal regulatory framework that supports safe and efficient interstate commerce is as important as physical infrastructure to keeping our country’s transportation system running.
The same goes for shipping, an interstate effort by nature. As essential as it is to invest in the modernization and maintenance of the locks, dams, ports and harbors that make up our waterway infrastructure, it is equally essential that the laws and regulations governing trade by waterways support high standards of environmental protection and transportation efficiency by not requiring ship operators to navigate an unenforceable patchwork of federal and state regulations.
The stakes, both for the maritime industry and for our nation, are high. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released last summer by U.S. Waterway Operators and the U.S. Maritime Administration, the U.S. tug, tug, and barge industry – a subset of the nation’s marine industry – supports more than 300,000 jobs nationwide and transports more than 760 million tons of the vital products that drive our economy, including containerized goods, steel, agricultural products, petroleum, coal and chemicals. The PwC study also shows that, compared to other modes of transport, tugs, tugs and barges pose the lowest risk to the public, have the smallest environmental footprint and offer the mode of transporting goods the most. more efficient. For example, an inland dry cargo barge carries the same amount as 16 railcars or 70 semi-trailers.
Today, this vital industry is burdened by a dysfunctional regulatory system that only Congress can fix. Commercial vessels operating in US waters are subject to a maze of some 150 regulations, imposed by two federal agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Coast Guard) and 25 states, governing the waters of ballast and other discharges incidental to normal ship operations. . Each time a vessel crosses state borders, a new set of requirements may apply. These duplicative and sometimes conflicting regulations threaten a shipowner’s ability to efficiently transport goods across state lines and create uncertainty for owners trying to install technology to comply with multiple requirements. This perversely retards investment in environmentally beneficial tailings treatment technology! The regulatory hodgepodge also creates a significant burden on ships’ crew members who are tasked with understanding and complying with different requirements on a daily basis.
A statutory solution to address this dysfunction is both urgent and readily available: the Ship Accidental Discharges Act (VIDA) would establish a uniform national framework for the regulation of ballast water and other discharges from ships, with defined roles and appropriate for Coast Guard, EPA and States.
Specifically, VIDA would provide shipowners and mariners with a predictable and transparent regulatory structure in which accidental discharges from ships are regulated by the Coast Guard, and ensure the highest level of environmental protection for all waterways. by requiring shipowners to meet the ballast water discharge standard that the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences have deemed the most stringent currently available. It would also establish a mechanism to raise the standard over time as technology improves. VIDA also preserves the ability of states to enforce the federal ballast water discharge standard, request a higher standard, work with the Coast Guard to develop best management practices, and regulate recreational vessels operating in their waters. .
In other words, this legislation strikes a careful balance between federal and state prerogatives in interstate commerce, and between the compelling interests of safeguarding economic efficiency and protecting the environment. This is a substantial political achievement.
VIDA is not only an eminently sensible policy, it also enjoys bipartisan support with a wide range of co-sponsors and supporters from all parts of the country, both in the House and in the Senate. It is supported by a broad national coalition including shipowners, unions, ports, shippers, and businesses and organizations that depend on maritime commerce for their livelihoods and competitiveness.
In this election year, especially, it won’t often be the case that legislation that both sides of the aisle agree on is passed, and that also happens to be the right policy for an industry whose states States really depend. Congress owes it to the nation to seize this opportunity and enact VIDA now.
• Thomas A. Allegretti is President and CEO of The American Waterways Operators.