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House Bill Seeks to Increase U.S. Port Activity

March 4, 2014

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Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., has introduced The Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century, H.R. 4105.  The legislation would replace the current Harbor Maintenance Tax, designed to fund the operation and maintenance of American ports.

It is a companion bill to legislation that was introduced last September by U.S. Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Supporters of the House bill claim the HMT encourages shippers to bypass American ports and move goods bound for the United States through Canada and Mexico, amounting to $30 million in losses to maritime infrastructure, with losses expected to increase if current trends continue.

“We must reform the way we fund the operation and maintenance of ports in Washington State and across the nation,” said McDermott. “This legislation nearly doubles the amount of funding for our ports each year. $1.6 billion in increased funding will keep American ports competitive in global shipping, create new American jobs and energize a key sector of the American economy.”

Replacing the HMT with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee would discourage shippers from diverting U.S.-bound goods through Canadian or Mexican ports, say supporters. It improves funding for infrastructure investments at American ports by guaranteeing that every dollar of user fee revenue is spent on port operation and maintenance.  At present, less than half of HMT revenue is spent on port upkeep.

The legislation has the support of a diverse group of 50 stakeholders and a coalition of naturally deep draft Puget Sound ports, Columbia River ports that require operation/maintenance, and small ports.

Late last month, the issue of U.S. freight being diverted to Canadian and Mexican ports was discussed during a meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as it working on a new multi-year surface transportation funding authorization.

Stuart Levenick, group president of Caterpillar, one the nation’s largest exporters, testified one of the reasons his company exports 40% of its U.S. freight out of Canadian ports, even through they are farther away, is because the U.S. transportation network does not work as it should.

That drew the ire of at least one committee member who accused Caterpillar of intentionally trying to avoid the current HMT.

“It drives us crazy that we can’t export efficiently from U.S. ports,” Levenick said. “It only makes sense [to use U.S. ports], they are closer to our place of manufacturing. We’re only doing it because we’re driven by global economics.”

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