Marine Transportation System

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Report on Freight Funding Policy

In Federal Government, Infrastructure on September 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm

The TRB has a new report that is worth a look:  Funding Options for Freight Transportation Projects. The study committee was charged with examining the rationale for public investment, evaluating financing strategies for “freight transportation projects of national significance,” assessing the ability to use criteria  in project selection,  and evaluating and comparing “generic financing options…based upon the greatest net benefit and least cost per public dollar invested.”  Here is a summary of the broad categories of recommendations along with a sampling of specifics:

  • Federal freight infrastructure assistance programs should adhere to certain guidelines. Project earmarking “weakens the effectiveness” of programs; any program should be structured to address freight projects on a case-by-case basis and be “flexible to address diverse assistance needs.”
  • Create a new discretionary assistance program to support freight projects, starting with a “test of the need for and value of a responsible and flexible federal program…” The “test” would be $1.8bn over 4-6 years and an independent evaluation to determine the program’s worth.  Note: the program outlined in the report is in many ways similar to the multimodal “TIGER” grants USDOT was charged with administering in the economic stimulus bill enacted last February.  Applications are due Sep15 and selected projects announced in Feb.
  • Make credit assistance more accessible and attractive to freight projects that merit Federal support. Includes revisions to TIFIA; encourage private sector participation by changing tax laws to be “neutral with respect to private versus public management” and finance “the kinds of facilities that commonly are built by the public sector.”
  • Reduce barriers to the development of local and facility-specific revenue sources to pay for freight infrastructure capital costs and provide incentives to encourage use of such sources. Enable port authorities to impose cargo charges “for purposes of  providing revenue for construction and operation of port facilities and access routes…”; reduce barriers to foreign ownership, operation and investment in the transportation industry, “particularly maritime and aviation…”
  • Expand the capability for freight system planning, project evaluation and data collection. Establish a “discrete…home for the functions of project evaluation, performance monitoring and technical assistance to state and local governments;”  develop a “continuing, comprehensive, and systematic program to monitory performance of the national freight transportation system…”

When State Regulation is Invasive

In Federal Government on September 1, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Non-indigenous species carried in ballast water (graphic by Patterson Clark of the WPost)

Non-indigenous species carried in ballast water (graphic by Patterson Clark of the WPost)

The Coast Guard issued on August 28th a proposed rule for the regulation of ballast water discharges (BWD).  This is the Nagging Problem (NP) that has plagued the maritime sector, particularly vessel operators.  That problem is both the habitat devastation caused by non-indigenous aquatic species unwittingly carried here from foreign ports and the  patchwork of regulation that can confound those responsible for ships in commerce.

Two Federal agencies claim jurisdiction.  The EPA does, per the Clean Water Act, and through that several states  exercise delegated authority to protect their waters.   So states like California, Michigan, Washington, and New York set their own requirements for vessels to meet.

But the vessels in question don’t just putter around Lake Erie, so to speak.  They transit international waters in international commerce and call in multiple ports.  The proposed Coast Guard rule takes a national approach with an international foundation for starters.  The proposed regs  would establish a standard for allowable concentrations of organisms in BWD.  The standard and schedule are consistent with the applicable IMO convention.  In the next decade, the standard would tighten significantly–assuming you think 1000x is significant–if currently unavailable technology would become available.  (Comments on the regulations are due November 27th.)

Still, there is that other NP.  The complication of multiple standards courtesy of the states.   At present Federal law doesn’t preempt non-Federal standards though that would be a good idea.  Who is to say that the means to meet one standard can also satisfy a second or a third standard as a ship moves from port to port?  And what if the State standard isn’t…well…carefully considered?

New York’s regulation, effective 2012, will put a ship’s pilot in violation of the law if the ship, lacking a means to meet the standard, crosses New York waters (without discharging) on its way to a terminal in New Jersey.  As frustrating  is the stricter-than-IMO standard for which ships must have onboard environmental technology that has yet to be devised, not to mention shown to be safe and effective.  NYDEC does not allow for an absence of applicable technology.  Take this enlightening discussion from The Washington Post story of August 31

Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, called different regulations in each state a “nightmare scenario.” He said current technology cannot meet New York’s standards, which are 100 times stronger than the IMO treaty, and he expects that the state will have to close ports or relax its rules.

Jim Tierney, assistant commissioner for water resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, disagreed. “It’s not that hard to kill things,” he said. “You can heat them up, crush them, pressurize them, put a chemical on them. We think this is a problem that can be solved in a very economical fashion.”

Well, there ya go, naval architects, biologists and others who have been working this question for a good many years.  Maybe it’s not so difficult after all.  Maybe just a big hammer, goggles, and a trash bag will get ‘er done.   Pbea