Support for U.S. Ports Continues in FY'15

Significant increases seen for Corps’ seaport programs & EPA’s DERA grants

By MarEx 2014-12-11 10:51:00

In reviewing the proposed $1.01 trillion Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 hammered out in Congress late Tuesday, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) noted that there are significant increases for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) operations and maintenance (O&M) activities and construction budgets, and for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants program. While the Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) grants program will drop to $500 million compared with fiscal 2014’s $600 million mark, funding is still significantly higher than the House-proposed mark of $100 million.

The trade association representing more than 80 U.S. public port authorities said it and its members have worked hard with its coalition partners and Congressional members this year for the increase in EPA’s DERA grants funding from $20 million to $30 million, and for the 10 percent increase in funding for the Corps’ HMT O&M activities.

Earlier this year, AAPA initiated its “Hit the HMT Target!” campaign aimed at incrementally increasing HMT funding, as outlined in the 2014 WRRDA (Water Resources Reform and Development Act) legislation, until the amount collected each year equals the amount appropriated.  The campaign urges the Administration and Congress to meet WRRDA’s annual HMT funding targets for harbor dredging and expanded uses at donor, energy transfer, underserved and Great Lakes ports, as well as for emerging harbors.

The funding bill agreement also provides a 24 percent increase in the Corps’ fiscal 2015 coastal navigation construction budget over fiscal 2014 (an increase from $155 million to $192 million) in recognition of the need to modernize and expand America’s deep-draft navigation channels.

With regard to the Corps’ HMT O&M budget, AAPA recognizes WRRDA’s June 2014 enactment came in the midst of the ongoing appropriations process, “but we’re pleased that Congress plans to significantly increase funding above the $915 million requested by the Administration,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle.  He further noted that, in the appropriations bill agreement, Congress will provide $1.1 billion in funding in fiscal 2015, representing a 10 percent increase over the landmark $1 billion appropriated last year. AAPA estimates that about $20 million should go for expanded uses at donor ports this year, as authorized under WRRDA.

“The association is looking ahead to President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request and for Congress to hit the HMT target that was established in WRRDA, which would provide 69 percent of the $1.9 billion estimated to be collected in 2015 HMT revenues,” he said.

Mr. Nagle added: “The funding provided to port-related infrastructure programs in this ‘Cromnibus’ is recognition that lawmakers appreciate that seaports, the connections with them and the trade flowing through them, are vital to creating and sustaining jobs, economic growth and enhancing U.S. international competitiveness.”

All federal agencies and departments will receive an appropriation through the end of the fiscal year except the Department of Homeland Security, which manages the Port Security Grants (PSG) program. The DHS received a short-term continuing resolution through Feb. 27 due to the disagreement between Congress and the president over his new immigration initiative.  Although AAPA believes the PSG program will continue to be funded at $100 million for fiscal 2015, the final amount will remain uncertain until after DHS’ continuing resolution expires.

“As Congress and the Administration grapple with the multiple goals of reducing the nation’s deficit while growing jobs and the economy, federal investments in ports and connecting infrastructure will continue to be an essential, effective utilization of limited resources paying dividends through increased trade, jobs and over $200 billion in tax revenues,” said Mr. Nagle.