Commerce Committee Advances Coast Guard Reauthorization, Includes Inhofe Provisions

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today praised the committee’s approval of S. 1129, which reauthorizes the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Inhofe authored Section 314 of S. 1129, which directs the U.S. Coast Guard to create a plan to replace aging inland waterways and river tender vessels, which are responsible for maintaining the navigation aids and buoys that mark water channels.  

Also included in the U.S. Coast Guard reauthorization bill was legislation that Inhofe originally cosponsored, S. 168, Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA) of 2017, which directs the establishment of a uniform national standard for ballast water and other vessel discharges.  

“Each year, $2.4 billion in agriculture products move through Oklahoma’s inland waterways, including the MKARNS River System that connects the Tulsa Port of Catoosa with the Mississippi river,” Inhofe said, “In order for barges of grain, fertilizer and steel to be transported safely, it is essential that navigation aids and buoys are maintained in good working order. The vessels that maintain these navigation aids—like the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Muskingum, a 52-year-old vessel that services over 350 miles of the Arkansas river—are aging and need modernizing. My provision directs the U.S. Coast Guard to create a plan to replace these aging vessels, ensuring the long-term viability of our inland waterways. 

“I am also pleased that committee advanced CVIDA, which will set a high environmental standard, while giving vessel owners across the country the certainty they need to invest in ballast water treatment,” Inhofe continued. 

Inhofe’s provision received praise by the American Waterways Operators, the Port of Catoosa and Kirby Corperation, which is one of the nation's largest maritime transportation companies. 

“A modernized, robust fleet of Coast Guard inland waterway and river tenders is vital to the safety and efficiency of navigation in maritime commerce, a fundamental pillar of our national economy,” said Craig F. Montesano, vice president of legislative affairs for the American Waterways Operators. “AWO commends Sen. Jim Inhofe for his recognition of the fleet’s importance in this regard, and congratulates him on his successful efforts to include its revitalization in this year’s Coast Guard Authorization Act.” 

“The Port of Catoosa is very appreciative of the legislation passed by the Senate Commerce Committee today reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard,” said David Yarbrough, port director of Tulsa Port of Catoosa.   “It is particularly pleasing to see the inclusion of Section 314, authored by Sen. Inhofe, directing the U.S. Coast Guard to begin plans to replace their aging fleet of inland waterway and river tenders.  Many people are unaware of the critically important work that the U.S. Coast Guard performs on the nation’s inland rivers, ensuring safe navigation for commercial and recreational traffic.  The reliability of these river tenders is crucial to the navigation industry and the Nation's transportation network.”

"We have many electronic tools today that help us navigate. But in the inland river system, where currents and shoals can change on a daily basis, buoys, and the inland tenders that maintain them, remain a critical component of navigation safety," said Jim Guidry, executive vice president for vessel operations of Kirby Corporation. "We are excited to see progress toward recapitalizing the inland buoy tender fleet. It is long overdue. Kirby Corporation strongly supports the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA).  We are prepared to invest in ballast water treatment systems that can meet the highest achievable standards. However, once we make that investment, we need to know that system will be accepted in every American port of call.  Without CVIDA, we could be subjected to multiple inconsistent standards on a single trip as we pass from state to state."

Background

  • Inhofe discussed this issue with Adm. Paul Zukunft at the March 22 Commerce Committee hearing entitled State of the Coast Guard: Ensuring Military, National Security, and Enforcement Capability and Readiness. Zukunft emphasized the importance of updating inland waterway vessels.