Marine Transportation System

Archive for the ‘Ports’ Category

HMTF: A Bump and RAMP Strategy

In Infrastructure, Ports, Water Resources on April 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Bump and RAMP doesn’t sound like a sophisticated legislative strategy.  It certainly isn’t a complicated one.  But when one is talking about the world of dredging one must do what one can to make it sound interesting.

As I’ve discussed previously the RAMP Act is an attempt to remedy a failing of current law.   A tax is collected on some of the beneficiaries of port infrastructure–specifically channels, turning basins, anchorages–in order to cover the cost of maintaining–specifically dredging–that Federal navigation infrastructure.

You can read about the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) by going to previous postings:  RAMP Gets Its Chance and  The Seven Billion Dollar Clue.  (Hmm…those like a lot like Hardy Boys titles.  Who?…oh, never mind.)

The procedural (point-of-order) solution in the RAMP legislation is not a complete solution.  There is nothing to mandate full funding of channel maintenance.

Absent an automatic funding mechanism that effectively bypasses congressional appropriations–which ain’t happening–the president will have to budget for channel maintenance every year and Congress will retain the prerogative to decide how much to spend.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow ports and other stakeholders have to make the case to Congress in support of the Corps of Engineers channel maintenance program.  While the RAMP lobbying effort, led by the dredging industry, has proceeded so has the routine effort to increase the level of appropriations for channel maintenance. Bumping up the annual funding has been the persistent and particular point of emphasis for the American Association of Port Authorities along with others.  And the effort has seen success.

Since FY 2009 the appropriation from HMTF funds has progressively grown from $773 million to $833 million in FY 2012.  The FY 2013 budget, now subject to appropriations committee attention, estimates $839 million will be used from the fund.

Most, but not all, of the appropriated amounts apply to port O&M costs.  Some goes to dredged material management facility construction, offsets for St. Lawrence Seaway tolls on the U.S. side, and for administrative overhead costs. If we look at the HMTF allocation to O&M the growth over that same timeline has been from $737 million to $767 million, in actual spending, and $779 million budgeted for FY 2013.

That’s modest growth, especially considering the fact that over the same period HMTF annual revenue (HMT receipts + interest) grew from $1.253 billion to an estimated $1.864 billion in FY 2013.

But it is growth in a time when Federal spending isn’t exactly growing like gangbusters.

One might attribute the growth to the RAMP effort, which commenced in 2008, and to AAPA’s bump-up strategy.  Those complementary and not exclusive efforts have shone a bright light on the inconvenient fact that the infrastructure maintenance buying  power of dedicated user-taxes has been capped while Federal-managed channels are allowed to shoal.

As of this writing, 44 percent of the House Members have cosponsored Rep. Boustany’s RAMP Act (HR 104) and over one-third of the Senate has signed on to Sen. Levin’s S. 412.  Those numbers reflect a bipartisan sensitivity to taxes collected but not used-as-promised as well as a greater awareness of the correlation between full-depth channels and the ability of U.S. exports to compete successfully on the global market.

That increased appreciation on Capitol Hill for the muddy, mundane world of maintenance dredging explain the two most recent and significant developments to date.

First, the House of Representatives voted, by voice, in support of full funding of Federal channel maintenance.  The vote was an easy one.  It doesn’t have an enforcement provision,  so there is nothing in the approved amendment to ensure full funding in future appropriations.  That explains why the amendment–a watered down HR 104, also sponsored by Rep. Boustany–didn’t have the opposition of committees that object to the RAMP Act as well as any other proposals for mandatory spending from trust funds.

That said, it is slightly stronger language than the “sense of Congress” provisions contained in the House and Senate transportation bills and which simply say what the Administration and Congress should do.  So, for the first time, the full House is associated with the view that the total spending from the HMTF should equal HMTF revenue.

Second, and quantifiably more significant, the House Appropriations Committee this week approved a record level of funding from the HMTF for FY 2013.   It is a handsome, marvelously round number of $1 billion.  It is over $150 million more than in the president’s budget, which itself represents an increase.

We don’t know as yet what is the comparable HMTF allocation on Senate side but the draft committee report is quotable:

The Committee understands that the O&M budget fluctuates from year to year due to periodic maintenance dredging requirements, however, the general trend should be for this budget to increase.

Yes, indeed…all the way to the annual level of user-taxes being paid to keep the channels fully maintained.  So far, the trend is in the right direction.  Pbea

HMTF: RAMP Gets Its Chance

In Congress, Ports on February 14, 2012 at 11:33 am

HR 7, the surface transportation (and energy) bill that was reported from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the wee hours of February 3, has a wee Water Transportation title whose only provision is hortatory language about full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

The HMTF, along with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, was left out of the full-funding fixes that the transportation committees muscled through Congress for the highway and transit programs in 1998 (TEA-21) and Airport Improvement Program in 2000 (AIR-21).

Chairman John Mica (R-FL) wanted to do something to remedy that oversight and, for the moment, that something is the “sense of Congress” that the HMTF “is not being used for its intended purpose” and fails “to provide the service for which it was established is unfair and places the National at economic risk.”  The Administration “should request full use” for channel work and “Congress should fully expend” what is in the fund.

Optimistically, the language is a placeholder for something with a bit more teeth, specifically the text of HR 104, the RAMP Act, that Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) and 171 colleagues sponsored in the hope of prying more out of the trust fund for deep draft channel O&M.  RAMP is an opaque acronym for Realize America’s Maritime Promise, the coalition that has advanced the issue.

HR 104 is modeled on the point-of-order approach employed in AIR-21 and which has had a role in leveraging substantial funding from the Aviation Trust Fund. However that doesn’t mean the procedural remedy would ensure full-funding from the HMTF. There is no guarantee. For that reason HR 104 is thought to have a better chance of winning Hill approval than would, for example, a mandatory spending requirement that is  the Hill committee turf battle equivalent of Iraq invading Kuwait for its oil.

The bill is intended to force the hand of the Appropriations Committees. But, you see, appropriators like to protect their prerogative to appropriate when, how much and for what. That explains why appropriations leaders are fighting RAMP. That and the fact that the appropriators have a long and bruised memory of being bested by one of Mica’s predecessors, Bud Shuster, in the TEA-21 and AIR-21 “truth in budgeting” fights.

There’s another reason. Assume the RAMP Act becomes law. If appropriators were forced to add, say, another $500,000,000 for channel maintenance they would have to do so within the parameters of the annual budget cap established through a separate budget process. If that cap isn’t increased by $500,000,000 then the added O&M money would have to come from other program areas. Having to cut a half-billion dollars is when it isn’t any fun being on the Appropriations Committee.

Chairman Mica decided on a strategy to add the HR 104 to HR 7 when the latter moved to the House floor for amendments. With 171 co-sponsors and a sustained advocacy effort on the part of ports, dredging contractors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others, an amendment stands a pretty good chance. RAMP advocates also are pressing for the Senate counterpart measure, S. 412, to be added to the MAP-21 surface transportation bill, S. 1816.

On February 1, the Ways and Means Committee held a maritime taxes hearing. Rep. Boustany, who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee of the tax panel, used the hearing to make the case for his bill. He polled witnesses from four ports and Louisiana’s agricultural commissioner.  All spoke to the economic efficiencies of vessels operating at full capacity when provided sufficient channel depth. When allowed to make the most of a ship’s capacity US exports prove to be more competitive on the world market.

On February 3, Ways and Means met on a bill to extend the Highway Trust Fund related taxes, the essential revenue piece for HR 7. Ways and Means Committee does not have jurisdiction over the HMTF even though it does have jurisdiction over the Harbor Maintenance Tax. That didn’t prevent Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) from offering an amendment to 1) add the RAMP Act to the bill and, 2) increase eligible uses of the HMTF. Having naturally deep water the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are among a small number that have little need for channel maintenance funding and in that way do not benefit by the cargo tax collected in those ports. (See the fairness discussion in the previous MTSM post.)  Rep. McDermott explained that by expanding eligible port uses of the HMTF to include “infrastructure improvements or repairs” Seattle, for example, might obtain funding for a needed seawall project. As noted, the committee had no jurisdiction. The amendment was withdrawn. Rep. Boustany said he would work with Rep. McDermott on the matter.

This week on the House floor Boustany amendment #180 will be offered to HR 7. Rep. McDermott will attempt his amendment #178. And you can watch it all on C-Span.  Pbea

HMTF: The Seven Billion Dollar Clue

In MTS Policy, Ports, Water Resources on February 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) is overdue for a remedy. How do we know? The unspent balance of Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) receipts, plus interest, is a mere $7,000,000,000.

HMT receipts are accounted for in the channel “maintenance” trust fund. However (not to be too picky) the Federal channel system is not fully maintained, and not for lack of money (see “mere” above). That and other information can be found in this 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service.

(A Moment for Trivia: The HMT is considered by some folks a user fee but as the Supreme Court figured out, unanimously and with little effort, the value-based charge on cargo bears little relationship to the service being provided i.e., maintaining channel depths and other dimensions for vessels, and “therefore does not qualify as a permissible user fee” under the export clause of the Constitution.)

The HMT is collected on import and domestic cargo handled at most US ports. On cruise tickets, too. The majority of what is collected comes from the high volume, high value imports; much less from comparatively low value domestic cargo moving between American ports. US exports cannot be charged, sez the Supreme Court.

The HMT was set to cover 100 percent of the cost of coastal channel maintenance. But if 100 percent of the channel maintenance that is needed isn’t done then 100 percent of the funds isn’t spent. It’s the kind of math that even I can understand.

Well, you might say, that’s okay because the money is safe in a trust fund. It is dedicated for maintenance dredging, right? It will be there when it’s needed, right?

Sure, but the balance has grown every year since 1994 and, more to the point, full funding is justified now. According to the Corps of Engineers the total channel system, including small recreational harbors, would cost around $1.3 billion a year. And even if the money is sitting in a trust fund collecting interest, it actually is being put to an unrelated purpose. Turns out the HMTF is a handy offset, especially when you are running a Federal deficit. Makes the deficit a little lower–$7,000,000,000 lower.

The money is collected for a specific purpose but is not being spent fully for that purpose. More than a few folks argue that is not fair. Especially the ones who have a direct stake in channel dredging such as ports and dredging contractors.

But then fairness has been an issue since the HMT and the HMTF were made law.

In the mid-80s Congress deliberated how to offset the cost of Federal channel maintenance (originally by 40 percent and then a few years later by 100 percent). Some ports argued that because heavy cargo weighs down a ship the new user fee for maintaining channel depth should applied to cargo tonnage.

Other ports took the opposite view, pointing to how heavier cargoes are often low value as well as low margin US exports. They said the charge should be on cargo value, arguing that containerized cargo could afford the charge. And since the vessel operators had already succeeded in fending off a fee on the vessel (arguably the direct user of the channel) it came down to which ports and kinds of cargo had the most, or least, votes in Congress.

The “fairness” question was decided in favor of the greater number of ports, which were export oriented and/or whose channel maintenance costs might be expected to exceed channel fee collections in those harbors.

As was patently obvious the major international gateways would produce a substantial portion of the revenue. Indeed in 2005—yes, most HMTF data is musty stuff because the Federal government unreliably produces the mandated annual report—the top cargo value ports of LA (13.7%), NYNJ (12.2%) and Long Beach (12.2%) represented nearly $380 million, which was more than one-third of HMT receipts. The top ten ports by value handled over 68 percent.

Some of them, as it happens, also require little in the way of channel maintenance. (I’ll get more into that subject in a later post.)

The HMT and the HMTF are in ways unfair and they are imperfect by design. The value basis of the tax can be explained as a seaport maintenance policy crafted for nation where no seaport has the same cargo, cargo type, volumes or geography and whose Constitution forbids Congress giving “preference” to one port over another (Article 1, Section 9).

We can’t be so generous and understanding with the way the HMTF is crafted in law and managed in the budget process.

Changing the basis of the HMT is politically unlikely (see “snowball’s chance in Honolulu”). As for the HMTF, changing the law is not easy but it is doable. (To be continued.) Pbea

The Mineta Speech, Pt.3

In Federal Government, Infrastructure, Leadership, MTS Policy, Ports, Water Resources on February 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta offered his audience at the North American Port and Intermodal Finance and Investment Summit recommendations “we can act on immediately” to address the inadequate “role of maritime issues in our national transportation policy.”    Here are Pt. 1 and Pt.2. Pt.3 follows…

It struck some people as a bit odd.  Here Norman Mineta was talking about changes that are needed to strengthen U.S. maritime policy but he waited until he was out of office  to raise them.  Perhaps these were ideas that coalesced in his mind only once relieved of the day-to-day tasks of office.  Maybe not.   Ultimately it didn’t matter.  At least he was raising them now.

“What is the path to victory?  I have ten recommendations we can act on immediately.  Some are major and some seem to be minor, but are critical to success.

“First, the Federal government must reorganize the Maritime Administration – MARAD.  I would rename it for what it should become – the Federal Maritime Administration, and I would combine virtually all of the Federal maritime responsibilities there.  It should reinvigorate the uniformed Federal Maritime Service and transfer the aids to navigation responsibilities from the Coast Guard to it.

“The portion of the Army Corps of Engineers whose responsibilities and capabilities for our domestic ports and waterways should be relocated to the Federal Maritime Administration.  The Army performing as domestic civil Federal engineers is not a role for the military and the country would save money and get a better product if these services were transferred to a single maritime agency.

“Secondly, the new agency must shift its focus to the condition of the nation’s ports and waterways and the role of this infrastructure in the totality of the U.S. transportation system.  The current agency has too many of its resources and its structure focused on the issue of ships and crews.

“Thirdly, the Merchant Marine Academy in Long Island should be renamed the National Maritime Academy.  It should be a Federal service academy where every graduate must perform his or her service in the Federal Maritime Service or as a commissioned officer in one of the other services as they do now including the Department of Homeland Security.  This Academy is one of the major assets of the Federal government and we need to give it our time and attention.

“Fourthly, the Federal government must develop a legislative reauthorization process that puts maritime issues on the same priority and level of importance that surface and aviation assets currently have.  If ports and waterways funding is always being relegated to parts of the surface transportation bill, or the defense bill, they will remain second-class subjects where the hope is to get your particular project an earmarked status.

“Fifth, the U.S. must revitalize its role in international maritime organizations and its maritime relations with other countries.  Whether its treaties or issues involving security and trade, the U.S. needs to give more time and attention to these areas.

“Earlier I said to achieve this refocus on maritime importance, state and local governments, port authorities, and other government entities reliant upon maritime trade must work with industry stakeholders to educate American citizens and their decision makers regarding U.S. reliance on a strong national maritime system.

“Therefore, I believe the next set of actions should begin with port and waterway interests and industry stakeholders – including financial players who want to enter this sector – creating a national association whose charter is to accomplish the following action items:

“Educate the Congress and the presidential candidates on the role of the national maritime system and get hard commitments to take action.  Educate American decision makers and others on the role maritime assets play in how freight and goods are delivered to them.  Then enroll them in the effort to get maritime’s fair share of infrastructure resources.

“My final recommended action is that you accomplish all of the above by overcoming the inevitable opposition – not only from without but from within.  Within the maritime industry there are many agreements of mutual mediocrity.  People are familiar with this system and will not want to see it changed.  The ground is shifting under their feet and they imperil needed financial investment and the innovation and the efficiencies it brings.

“Also, there are issues that need to be addressed within the industry – labor agreements, the role that technology will play in the labor force, and how security issues will be addressed.  These are important issues that need to be vigorously debated and resolved – but they are not reasons to oppose raising the importance of maritime issues on the national agenda.  Take a side in these issues, fight for them, but do not let it dominate the larger objective.

“Finally, for those of you who are looking for quick investments in ports and maritime infrastructure, I’m not sure I’ve given you a lot of useful information.  And for you I’m afraid there is more bad news.  There are no quick rates of return to be made here.  Private investment into ports and infrastructure will have to be a true and long-term partnership.

“The up side as we say is that this is an industry that has the potential for tremendous growth and to have a real impact on our national transportation system.”

So there you have it.  A message that is important not so much for the specific recommendations made–although there are some good ones there–but for the fact that he was putting the spotlight on a problem that few public officials and industry people bother to talk about or even acknowledge.  See the next post for some additional  thoughts.   Pbea

Green Move at FMC

In Environment, Green Transportation, Ports on January 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

The Federal Maritime Commission has formed a Maritime Environmental Advisory Committee.  This isn’t fresh news–the FMC announced the action last November–but it’s still worth noting.

It is a smart move by Chairman Rick Lidinsky.  He announced it, appropriately so, while on a visit to the San Pedro Bay ports.  Says the FMC press release: “I wanted to recognize these ports’ leadership in demonstrating that the maritime industry can remain commercially competitive while acting in a manner consistent with the country’s commitment to energy independence and environmental standards.”  While those two largest of US ports have led the way in greening seaport operations the Lidinsky comments were a particular reference to the ports’ more recent Clean Trucks Program. It was his way to demonstrate the agency’s new leadership.

The program–in conjunction with the efforts of an enlightened shipper community–has been very successful in reducing port drayage trucking diesel emissions by a praiseworthy 80 percent.  Doing it well ahead of schedule.  The program has inspired similar action in other parts of the country and, with the exception of one particular element, has the strong support of both public and private interests.  (The exception is the controversial “employee driver” provision in the Los Angeles plan that is being challenged by the American Trucking Association in court.)

The formation of the FMC panel followed by several months a decision in the FMC to halt its action against the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Their joint action raised technical issues under the Shipping Act and that prompted an FMC complaint in court as well as the decision to start an FMC enforcement investigation.   (The environmental objectives of the  clean trucks program were not challenged.)   The decision to withdraw the complaint took place before Lidinsky’s arrival at the FMC.

The bid in court  proved unproductive.  I’ve not the training to judge the merits of the  complaint.   But I do know that the new chairman–a sharp fellow–knew what he was doing when he asked his staff what was their understanding of the environmental issues that color and confront maritime related activity in the United States today.

On learning the answer Lidinsky took action.  A Maritime Environmental Advisory Committee was formed.  Strictly an internal panel, the press release notes that the staff committee’s purpose is “consistent” with Obama administration policy for the development of “green jobs”, etc.  A reference to creating jobs is de rigueur for a government  press release these days, likewise an ethos statement on seeking “a more sustainable approach to maritime issues.”

On a more basic level, however, the new advisory committee would help the commissioners understand what is going on in the maritime realm and tune the agency’s work–its deliberations and services–to what is an undeniably changed environment–regardless of the party in power–in which business and government now has to operate.  And smartly so.   Pbea

Obama Jobs Initiative: Meaning in Missing Words?

In Infrastructure, Ports on December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

This is what is in the president’s jobs proposal announced today with respect to infrastructure investment:

2. Investing in America’s Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure

Additional investment in highways, transit, rail, aviation and water. The President is calling for new investments in a wide range of infrastructure, designed to get out the door as quickly as possible while continuing a sustained effort at creating jobs and improving America’s productivity.

Support for merit-based infrastructure investment that leverages federal dollars. The Administration supports financing infrastructure investments in new ways, allowing projects to be selected on merit and leveraging money with a combination of grants and loans as was done through the Recovery Act’s TIGER program.

The second paragraph is a reference to the over-subscribed TIGER grant program for which a broad range of transportation projects are eligible and awardees will be announced no later than February.  The administration has shown an affinity for “merit-based” grants (as opposed to congressional earmarks and formula funding).   USDOT loves it because it puts the Secretary in the position to judge what projects are worth funding and to apply White House principles such as emission reduction.

With so little in the way of detail we might infer from the first paragraph that the Marine Transportation System may not be as much as part of the next jobs bill as it was in ARRA signed in February.  Does the Obama administration include port or marine transportation as eligible for job stimulus funding?  Especially for  the “out the door” quickly category?

Certainly connecting roads and rail are valuable elements of the MTS but when the president’s proposal for infrastructure funding uses the term “water” it may not mean maritime.  I think it means water and sewer infrastructure, which would appeal greatly to capital starved municipal governments but do little for marine highway and other MTS infrastructure needs.

Prior references by Congress and the administration to funding maritime related projects as part of ARRA used the word “port“ along with rail, highway and transit projects.  No mention of port or maritime in the White House statement or the president’s remarks at the Brookings Institution today.

That said, port/maritime projects were eligible for TIGER grants, which the White House appears to want to continue.  But almost by definition TIGER grant money doesn’t flow in a matter of couple months.  The first grant announcements won’t be made until close to a year after the funds were appropriated by Congress in February 2009.  Indeed, I’m told that White House officials said after the president’s remarks that some part of the infrastructure element of the s announcement today may not be intended to pour money into the system over the short term.

The White released an outline today.   The administration and Congress will put flesh on the bones and maybe once the House and Senate take up legislation early next year ports and  marine transportation, including capital needs for marine highway development, will be eligible.

For that to happen, the industry will have to make its case.     Pbea

California Trailblazing to a Miami Tunnel

In Intermodal, Ports, Surface Transportation Policy on November 17, 2009 at 11:04 pm

When earth was turned in 1997 for the Alameda Corridor project in the San Pedro Bay port region more than one kind of ground breaking was occurring.  The Port of Miami is a beneficiary.

In freight transportation policy circles the Alameda Corridor project one day may be legend.  The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were the gaping end of a freight funnel that emptied import boxes onto the exit rails and streets.  In essence the solution was to eliminate grade crossings by building a blow-grade rail way out of town.  A big project with a $2.4B price tag.  A key to the financing was Federal credit assistance.  The project and two others in California were the first to benefit by this innovation.  A paper on the FHWA website tells the story.

Due to Federal budgetary constraints, however, the grant was not deemed to be a fiscally or politically viable option. An alternative form of Federal support for this project was needed, and by 1997 the answer was clear: Federal credit enhancement in the form of a junior-lien loan to ACTA.

The fiscal year 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 104-208) provided $58.7 million for DOT to cover the capital reserve charges associated with making a direct loan of up to $400 million to ACTA for the Alameda Corridor Project. This represents an actual budgetary cost of 14.7 percent of the face value of credit assistance. The legislation also provided that the loan be repaid within 30 years from the date of project completion and that the interest rate on the loan not exceed the 30-year Treasury rate.

Inspired by the success of leveraging non-Federal investment for large infrastructure project, particularly private financing, Congress in 1998 fashioned a fully articulated TIFIA program.  It was adjusted in SAFETEA-LU with a lowered threshold to make more projects eligible.

Nearly $7 billion in projects in 13 states have benefited since TIFIA was created by Congress.  The Port of Miami’s rail freight tunnel had an uncertain future but with the October announcement the financing is in place and a $607 million construction project soon will be underway.  Not bad.   Pbea

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A Slice of Pie for Hungry Ports

In Infrastructure, Ports on October 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I’m not sure if this is a troubling sign but Sally Fields comes to mind when I think of TIGER grants.

Those are the multi-modal, discretionary grants that were created in the economic stimulus bill Congress approved last February.  The pleased folks at USDOT dubbed the program TIGER–a suitable acronym–and put flesh on the bones. Pleased because this was one of those rare times when Congress was willing to say: “Here, Mr. Secretary, is 1,500,000,000 dollars for you to spend, outside of existing modal grant programs, at your discretion.

There were some rules of course, but none of the earmarked projects Congress is so fond of TIGERpiedesignating to the fullest extent of available funds.

And with a reform-oriented SAFETEA-LU sequel due to be written by Congress it was not lost on USDOT that if the TIGER program were managed well–whatever “well” might mean to congressional overseers–it could be a model for replication.  USDOT may be entrusted to award more competitive grants on the basis of project merit and worth to the country.  Imagine that.  (Indeed, the Senate DOT appropriations bill for FY 2010 includes $1.1 Bn for additional TIGER grants.)

In the months that followed enactment of the $750 Bn stimulus package–some $48 Bn of which was allocated to USDOT for near term implementation–Secretary Ray LaHood told port officials and others involved in the MTS that port project applications would be welcomed for TIGER grants.  He told the D.C. Propeller Club audience in May that the maritime sector has been neglected and TIGER grants were an opportunity.

Well, the ports listened.  Shades of Sally Fields!  When in 1985 she won her second golden statue for her role in Places in the Heart the former “Flying Nun” famously cried, “You really like me!”

The ports took to heart the Secretary’s encouragement. He really wanted them to apply for grants and apply they did.  Ninety-five applications were submitted for port related projects totaling $3.3 Bn.  Certainly the smallest of the modal slices on the pie chart, but not an overwhelming difference when compared to rail.

Toward what end?  We’ll learn in February what projects are approved and how many are for ports.  The TIGER grants and pending legislation to grant MARAD infrastructure improvement authorities are signs that change may be in the wind.  The Feds are becoming more open to assisting ports with more than just channel construction and maintenance.  Certainly MARAD is eager to claim new program areas.  And some of the ports, perhaps an increasing number, are welcoming the help of Uncle Sam…maybe even inside the gate.   Pbea

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 3)

In Efficiency, Ports on September 17, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  A shift in buying power—where the consumers are—may be the greatest change facing major gateway ports throughout the U.S.

Consumer Demand
The primary end-consumer of manufactured goods is shifting east—Far East.  For U.S. ports, it is going to be as important to be an efficient “export port” in the coming decade as it was to be an efficient “import port” last decade.

Over the last decade a significant shift in national and individual wealth occurred from America and Europe to the Far East and India.  In the next several decades the emerging middle classes in China and India will be the primary global goods and services consumers.  China already has a middle-class of 300 million, approximately the same number as the U.S. total population.

An increasing demand for goods will be driven by two phenomena: population growth and economic convergence.  The world population (currently at 6.8 billion) is expected to reach 7 billion in late 2010 and to reach 8 billion within 20 years, or sooner.  (Much of this growth will be in Asia and Africa, but by 2050 it is projected that India will be the world’s most populous nation.)

Approximately 80 percent of these new individuals will have discretionary incomes nearly equal to their western counterparts because of increasingly convergent economic patterns for most nations.  Meanwhile western-populations will age and increase their savings rates in order to provide for their retirement years.  In short, the demand will be on the other side of the planet.

The Bottom Line
U.S ports planning to participate in the international trade and transportation business will have to be agile, 2-directional (serving both imports and exports), environmentally sound operations, and take advantage of economies of scope and scale to compete in the 21st Century.  These are business considerations that should be included in a port’s strategic business plan to maintain and gain market share.

T. H. Wakeman

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 2)

In Environment, Ports on September 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  The change in environment—at local, national and global levels—will be a constant factor not easily addressed.

Environmental Concerns
From 2002 to 2007 many ports found it necessary to have a proactive environmental policy to get community approval to operate and expand.  Most major ports experienced double digit volume increases that resulted in problems with surrounding communities over increasing road congestion, noxious air emissions, and safety concerns.  In the San Pedro Bay ports communities voiced their anger to local politicians and in short order port projects were put on hold.

With the collapse of global trade, the pressure subsided as the number of containers and trucks decreased.  However, all indications suggest that world trade will rebound and cargo volumes will double by 2040.  Community concerns and political problems will re-emerge as well.  Other environmental issues may also emerge to affect port business practices—consumption of non-renewable resources, bio-hazards, and concerns about species redistribution that may persist even with ballast water regulation.  A proactive policy may again be a necessity for certain major ports if their environmental performance is seen as problematic for their neighbors.

Green house gases (GHG) are probably going to be the biggest environmental game changer for businesses as climate change policy is put in place and businesses calculate the added expense.  The U.S. contributes 20 percent of the world’s emissions from burning fossil fuels; India contributes 4 percent.  Will there be a carbon tax or cap and trade policy established worldwide?  What will be the cost penalty for oceanborne cargo here or worldwide?  How fast will engine room and terminal equipment technology adapt?  Those questions await answers and clarification.

As climate change concerns and political acceptance addressing those concerns increase, the pressures to aggressively address GHG will be enormous.  (That is likely notwithstanding the relative environmental and energy per-ton/mile efficiency of the marine and rail elements of MTS related transportation.)  These issues will have even greater impacts on the cost of ports, particularly if dealt with retroactively.

Next: Consumer demand and the bottom line.

T. H. Wakeman

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