Several high priority programs crucial to the safe, efficient and competitive operation of American seaports are included in the recently approved $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2014.
And, officials at the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) are encouraged to see progress.
“AAPA is pleased to see, in this era of fiscal restraint and belt-tightening, that a number of the priorities of America’s ports were important enough to lawmakers that they included them throughout this government-wide spending bill,” Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO, says.
“The funding provided to port-related infrastructure programs 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,” he adds.
According to the AAPA, the following are included in the appropriations mix:
- U.S. DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants;
- U.S. Corps of Engineers’ navigation-related programs;
- FEMA State and Local Programs grants that include dedicated funds for port security;
- EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants;
- Several of NOAA’s subprograms that aid navigation.
Nagle tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today that all of the above are key “because they relate, in one manner or another, to the maintenance, improvements, modernization and/or security of infrastructure in and around” all U.S. ports.
That is “absolutely vital, not only for America’s ports, but for our ability to compete internationally in the world markets with our products,” he adds.
“I think the general attention, recognition and higher levels of funding for those programs are both extremely important,” Nagle says. “It also shows that Congress and the Administration are recognizing the critical role that our ports and that international trade and competitiveness have on our economy and jobs.”
TIGER DISCRETIONARY GRANTS
A section of the appropriations bill important to America’s freight movement is $600 million in funding for TIGER discretionary grants, representing a 20 percent increase over last year’s $500 million appropriation.
“While not all of that will go to projects directly at ports, we advocate that at least 25 percent of that funding should go to port-related infrastructure, and other projects that are eligible,” Nagel says.
Other “eligible projects” are often “indirectly related,” he says. Think landside access projects and rail connections, for instance. “We’re talking about projects related to eventually moving goods and freight in and and out of our ports or along the internal domestic routes,” Nagle explains.
In the end, port-related projects received about 22 percent of the total $474 million in grants from the fifth round of the program in 2013.
CORPS OF ENGINEERS’ CIVIL WORKS PROGRAMS
For the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works programs, the bill provides a total of $5.5 billion overall, compared to the Administration’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $4.8 billion.
Of the total appropriated in this bill, an important milestone was reached with a funding level of $1 billion dedicated to navigation channel dredging operations and maintenance. This compares to $890 million in the Administration’s fiscal 2014 budget request.
“Reaching that $1 billion milestone is very significant in terms of having more funding for the Corps to be able to better maintain the federal navigation channels leading into and out of our ports,” Nagle says. “It is also a significant stair step toward what we believe is ultimately necessary, and that’s full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Tax because it’s still barely over a half of what is being collected. Last year’s total collection was about $1.8 billion.”
As part of the Corps’ Civil Works appropriation, Congress also approved initiating three new starts for deep-draft navigation studies and up to two new starts on construction projects. These are the first new starts since 2010. The final decision as to which projects will be funded will be made by the Corps in its annual work plan.
“On the land side and on the water side, we saw a 20 percent and a more than 10 percent increase, respectively, in related funding, and again, in this environment, in Washington, I think that is significant,” Nagle says.
FEMA STATE AND LOCAL PROGRAMS
With regard to seaport security, AAPA says a portion of the appropriations bill calls for $100 million from FEMA State and Local programs to be used for the Port Security Grant Program.
“On the security side, the appropriation for the Port Security Grant Program was a bump up of about 8 percent,” Nagle says. “Again, in this environment, a positive percentage increase is a good thing.”
Furthermore, the bill rejects the Administration’s proposal to bundle all state and local security grant programs into one pot and move them to the states to determine allocations, a move AAPA strongly opposes, believing that funding decisions should be maintained at the federal level to protect international transportation gateways.
“We believe it’s very important to keep a dedicated port security program since ports do represent international borders and are very critical to maintaining security in terms of access to those facilities, and/or the concern about moving dangerous things through our nation’s ports,” Nagle says. “That’s vital because it enables ports to continue to strengthen and enhance their security as the type of threats change, and with technology advancements.”
AAPA, meanwhile, continues to advocate for a separate port security funding program to aid ports in boosting their security infrastructure, technology and personnel programs, and to ensure that terrorist threats don’t become realities.
DIESEL EMISSIONS REDUCTION ACT (DERA) GRANTS
In the environmental arena, funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s DERA grants—which has been highly successful in helping ports reduce emissions from older diesel engines—remained level at $20 million, despite an overall decrease in the EPA’s appropriation compared to fiscal 2013.
“That funding is important because again, those grants help ports as well as others in the transportation chain, either retrofit existing equipment, and/or buy new equipment that reduces the emissions in and around the ports,” Nagle says. “There are obviously air quality benefits as well as local community benefits, quality of life benefits and more – all of which are vital from an environmental standpoint.”
NOAA’s National Ocean Service Operations, Research and Facilities appropriation, which funds several navigation-related subprograms important to shipping and ports, was funded at $471.9 million, an increase of roughly 5 percent over the fiscal 2013 appropriation, but about 5 percent less than what was in the Administration’s budget request.
NOAA states that its overall appropriation is sufficient to maintain the agency’s core suite of products and services to the maritime community. Of particular interest to ports is NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS), which provides environmental observations, forecasts and other data to significantly improve the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce.
While it received sufficient funding to maintain its share of program costs, its appropriation provides no additional funding for fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, which continue to be paid by individual ports.
THE RIGHT STEPS FORWARD
The appropriations mix “certainly addressed our principal areas,” Nagle says. “There is no disputing that.”
But would the AAPA loved to have seen even higher funding levels? Does the organization think higher funding levels are still needed? “Absolutely,” Nagle says.
Even in this continuously cost -trimming political landscape, he adds.
“Again, given the current realities in Washington, and the focus on tightening the federal budget, what we’ve talked about is that these types of investments are must-have funds that need to be prioritized even in a budget cutting environment,” Nagle says.
Investing in programs that improve the daily operations of U.S. ports “are both essential and effective utilizations of a limited amount of resources,” Nagle adds.
“They’re looking for more bang for the buck, and these types of programs and infrastructure investments have enormous dividends,” he says. “The cargo activity moving through our ports supports over 13 million jobs and generates more than $200 billion a year in local, state, and federal tax revenue.”
“Seaports are essentially America’s golden goose, and we ought to be figuring out how we continue to nurture that goose as opposed to strangling that goose,” he says.
Founded in 1912, AAPA today represents more than 130 of the leading seaport authorities in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean and about 300 sustaining, associate and honorary members, firms and individuals with an interest in seaports. As a critical link for access to the global marketplace, each year, Western Hemisphere seaports generate about US$9 trillion of economic activity, support the employment of tens of millions of people and import and export about 8 billion tons of cargo, including food, clothing, medicine, fuel and building materials, as well as consumer electronics and toys. As Western Hemisphere populations continue to rise, so too does the demand for goods, services and cruise offerings that depend on our seaports. To meet these demands, the AAPA and its members are committed to keeping seaports navigable, secure and sustainable.