Marine Transportation System

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good Luck, Mr. Chairman.

In Infrastructure, Leadership, MTS Policy, Politics, Surface Transportation Policy on November 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Capitol Hill institution is a phrase that some incoming freshmen Members may not appreciate or find at all useful.  After all, some of them are arriving with the intent to de-institutionalize the place.

Democrat Jim Oberstar was de-institutionalized on Election Day.  He lost his re-election bid as did some other senior congressmen, including two other committee chairs.  Gene Taylor (D-MS) of the Seapower Subcommittee was one.

The chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is both an institution and a creature of one, where he spent 36 years representing his Minnesota district.  He started on Capitol Hill in the early 1960s as a staffer for an earlier iteration of that committee.  His remarks the other day to reporters (as reported by Sarah Abruzzese of E&E) reflect a perspective born in another time that looks out of place in the litmus-test politics of today.

“I think you will see coming in a lack of institutional understanding and also it appears a lack of willingness to follow seasoned leaders,” Oberstar said.

That’s speculation on his part but not without cause.  A real question giving those of us here pause is how well the 112th Congress will function and, therefore, govern.  Many of us end the 111th Congress with doubtful expectations for the next one.  (Paul Page of the Journal of Commerce wonders about the prospects for governing also.)

Not to suggest it is the center of the policy universe but in the transportation sector there is much at stake.  Here are three instances.  Long pending aviation program and policy legislation has been immobilized and needs to reach the President’s desk.  Likewise, the significant surface transportation “reauthorization” legislation—to include reforms that hopefully will make up for the excesses and diversions of SAFETEA-LU—is overdue and guaranteed to take at least another year to address, if we are so lucky.  Whether this next “TEA” bill will contain the multi-modal sensibility, including marine elements, that many of us look for, is one of the consequential unknowns.  And speaking about bills that are rarely on time, how will the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works program–the basis for navigation infrastructure and commerce since the nation’s founding days–be made to function well in the next decades if Congress does not take up water resource (WRDA) legislsation?

There are bigger fish to fry in this town, of course – the government’s off-balance fiscal policy, the economy, and our international presence. But let’s consider the prospects on a smaller and more easily understood scale of those, nonetheless significant, challenges that face the transportation and public works panels of the House and Senate.  There is much to do in part because not much has been done over the years to address the nation’s infrastructure deficit or to focus on neglected sectors like the U.S. maritime.   As for the incoming class, Jim Oberstar’s conjecture is reasonable.

Among the members-elect, “there is little appetite for or appreciation of the broader policy questions that the nation faces with transportation,” he said — emphasizing that this was his opinion from reading about election outcomes across the country.

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[Oberstar] expressed admiration for Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who served as the committee’s ranking member and is now almost certain to take over as chairman. “Mr. Mica and I developed over these four years a very close working relationship,” Oberstar said. “He and I were both quick to say we have disagreements on policy issues, but we found a way to mitigate those differences.”Oberstar listed multiple bills that the two parties were able to come to an agreement on and shepherd out of the committee, including a Water Resources and Development Act that successfully overcame a presidential veto, an Amtrak bill that the president signed, an aviation authorization bill (twice), and a Coast Guard authorization bill.

***

“I would have brought to the new Congress that history of cooperation and seeing and trusting, that’s even more important, trusting my partner in this process,” Oberstar said. “Going forward, you’ll have to rebuild all those personal relationships and committee structural relationships. And that will take time and will take something out of the process.”

How true.  While still holding out hope for what is to come, we will miss Jim Oberstar, the institution and that diminishing breed.   Good luck, Chairman Mica.   Pbea

Is Security Going Overboard?

In Federal Government, Security on November 15, 2010 at 10:01 am

With this piece on transportation security we introduce Richard Biter, a new addition to our contributors.  Rich’s many years at the U.S. Department of Transportation gave him a ring-side seat to, among other things, the rise and demise of the Office of Intermodalism and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration…before the Department of Homeland Security was hatched.  Like most of us who shuffle through Federal airport security, Rich has some thoughts to share.


I’ve been reading with alarming interest how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been instituting new airport security measures which include “naked” body scanners (approximately 350 are in place now with an estimated 1,000 by the end of 2011) combined with aggressive and personally intrusive “pat-downs” for those that opt out of being scanned or otherwise chosen at random.  These new procedures are inciting major a backlash from the both the traveling masses and the rare coalition of air travel related organizations that represent travelers, unions and business.

While I could get into a whole litany of issues I have with DHS/TSA airline/airport security, here’s just one example of where the kids have taken over school: A pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, recently refused to undergo a full-body scan at Memphis International Airport in Memphis, TN.  The pilot later stated “I was trying to avoid this assault on my person, and I’m not willing to have images of my nude body produced for some stranger in another room to look at either.”  TSA’s response was that “security is not optional” and any person who refuses security screening is not allowed to fly.

Now let’s think about that for a second…here we subject pilots to rigorous, indeed onerous, security checks to prevent them from bringing any weapons onto an aircraft, only to allow those very same pilots to climb into a locked and secured cockpit. From there they can fly their passenger laden planes most anywhere  a tank of fuel can take them.  Frankly, if a pilot wants to fly into a building or the ground there is no way to stop him/her.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…there’s the argument that a pilot could sneak a gun in and give it to someone else on another flight.  And the gun-toting security guys/gals already behind the security barriers can’t do the same thing?  Where’s the adult-in-charge that can bring some commonsense reasoning into this process who can say “Wait a minute people…at some point we have to establish a level of trust into the system and we should start with the flight crew.”

Now here’s another point to ponder.  We all saw and heard about the plight of the people on the Carnival cruise ship Splendor which was crippled for three days at sea after an engine fire.  But did you know that even though it never docked at a foreign port, DHS’s Custom and Border Protection still ran a check of the passenger manifest before it was towed back to San Diego, CA?  Under what authority allows them to do that?  Followed to its logical extension, will marine highway operators and recreational boaters, e.g. deep-sea fishing, at some point be required to submit to inspection or file a passenger manifest with DHS even though they never dock at a foreign port?  Hmmmm.

Richard Biter

Shipping The T. Boone Way

In Efficiency, Energy/Environ, Green Transportation, Marine Highway on November 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

T. Boone Pickens and I have something in common.  You probably do, too.

The uber-capitalist wants to end our nation’s dependence on foreign fuel sources.  Especially those nation sources that love to take our money and use it to cut US off at the knees.

No doubt T. Boone has an uber-financial interest in domestically produced energy through wind turbines and natural gas.  But let’s give the guy great credit for hitting the road and taking what is an urgent policy campaign to folks around the nation.

Although he doesn’t mention it in his plan, I think T. Boone would give a thumbs-up to LNG fueled ships.   Here are a few notes to add to an earlier post at this address.

With IMO limits on emissions facing the sector, and a tougher emission control area (ECA) regime adopted for the US and Canada starting 2012, natural gas powered ships should be in the mix.

Heavy fuel oil is not an option for future shipping within ECAs. Alternatives have to be introduced. A DNV study concludes that LNG is the obvious alternative to satisfy future ECA requirements, particularly for the short sea shipping.  (DNV item and link to a presentation are here.)

MARINTEK  – the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute – does research, development and technical consulting in the maritime sector.  A 2009 presentation on the Norwegian experience with LNG fueled ships is interesting reading.

In China (of course)…

The company succeeded in fueling a tugboat weighing over 300 tons with LNG for Wuhan Ferry Company. The ship now runs on a fuel formula of 30% diesel and 70% natural gas, representing significant energy and cost savings.  The Chairman of the board & CEO of the company, Qinan Ji, said. “This achievement is a big step in the history of China’s new energy industry and will contribute to environmental protection and reduce energy consumption. The marketing of LNG-powered ships will be implemented on a full scale in the forthcoming years.“ (Marine Link, August 8, 2010)

And from the pens of college students…

DNV CEO Henrik O. Madsen, said: “I was very impressed to see what the students presented here today. At times I have found it difficult to understand why the shipping industry has not switched to LNG – given the great commercial and environmental advantages. Today, with their presentation the students have provided ship owners with a blueprint, showing us all that it is 100% realistic to overcome the challenges with regard to LNG as fuel.”  (Ship Management)

I would rather not add LNG powered ships to the long list of things on which America ranks twenty-something—or last—in the world.  And as a matter of law we can’t buy Chinese vessels to work the American coastline.  So, what say, gang, let’s build them here!

LNG is a natural for coastwise shipping, less so for trans-oceanic vessels.  American start-ups including Coastal Connect, American Feeder Lines, and Intermodal Marine Lines see a role for natural gas in powering the modern vessels planned for marine highway service.  They intend to provide prospective customers with cleaner and highly efficient transportation options.

A few months ago the natural gas industry focused their monthly Washington roundtable luncheon on LNG and the maritime sector.  It was well-attended with a few of us maritime folks also in the room to hear John Hatley of Wartsila North America.  Now there are obvious regulatory and distribution issues to be addressed.  But sitting there, surrounded by a US industry group that knows little of shipping and a lot about natural gas, I realized that comparatively smaller US maritime shipping sector could have a major lobbying partner to advance innovative US-flag shipping if we only were willing to engage.  What do you say, Mr. Pickens?  What do you say, Washington?   Pbea

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