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Hunter & Gibbs Statements from Hearing on Maritime Navigation Programs Interagency Cooperation and Technological Change

Washington, DC, September 7, 2016 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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Hunter and Gibbs Opening Statements
Joint Subcommittee Hearing on “Federal Maritime Navigation Programs: Interagency Cooperation and Technological Change
September 7, 2016
(Remarks as Prepared)

Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation

The Subcommittees on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and Water Resources and Environment are jointly meeting today to review the federal government’s navigation programs.

From the earliest days of the United States, the federal government took responsibility for activities necessary to promote international and interstate trade, including activities that promote safe and efficient maritime navigation.  Navigation activities of the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide for a safe, secure, and efficient marine transportation system that forms the backbone of our economy.  The maritime sector contributes more than $650 billion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product and sustains more than 13 million jobs.  Nearly 100 percent of our overseas trade enters or leaves the United States by vessels navigating the marine transportation system. 

To maintain this economic output, facilitate the efficient movement of goods, protect the environment, and ensure the safety and security of marine transportation system, the navigable waters of the United States are charted, marked, and dredged on a regular basis.  NOAA is tasked with surveying and producing over 1,000 nautical charts covering 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of waters; the Corps is responsible for surveying and maintaining the depth of nearly 25,000 miles of federal navigation channels throughout the country; and the Coast Guard is charged with the maintenance of over 47,000 federal government-owned buoys, beacons, and other aids-to-navigation that mark 25,000 miles of waterways.

It has been two years since the last hearing on this topic.  I’m interested in hearing from the agencies on progress made to carry out these missions in a coordinated, cost-effective manner, while also ensuring the safety, security, efficiency of our waterways and taking advantage of ongoing technological advances.  The agencies held 12 joint public listening sessions in 2014 to better understand the needs of user groups.  I look forward to the agencies updating the Subcommittees on what they heard from user groups and how the agencies went forward or will go forward to meet user needs.

In an age of electronic communications and digital technology, I am interested to understand if the agencies have been able to keep up with technological improvements and the way in which charting data is collected and displayed.  Is the private sector able to use the data to develop products to assist mariners, and are federal actions assisting these endeavors?  Are federal regulations supportive or do they impede the move to a digital world?  And, as we move toward the use of more e-navigation systems, are adequate redundancies and back-up systems available to ensure safety. 

In order to grow jobs and remain competitive in a global economy, we must build and maintain a reliable, world-class navigation system.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what progress they have made toward making such a system a reality.

Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

There is no doubt the nexus between the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Coast Guard are vitally important to ensuring the safety and security of our Nation’s marine transportation system, and ensuring a competitive edge for U.S. goods in overseas markets.

I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today.  We have Mr. Eddie Belk here from the Army Corps of Engineers.  He serves as Chief of the Operations and Regulatory Division.  I look forward to hearing his testimony about how the Corps of Engineers collaborates with both NOAA and the Coast Guard.

The Corps of Engineers is responsible for the operation and maintenance of nearly 25,000 miles of federal navigation channels, which includes both coastal and inland channels.  It will be interesting to hear how advanced technologies have played a role in maintaining the authorized widths and depths of these channels, as well as improving the safety for vessels that transit the inland and coastal systems.

In addition to dredging, the Corps is also responsible for operating and maintaining more than 240 locks at more than 190 sites on the inland river system.  The average age of these facilities is more than 60 years old.

In 2014, Congress enacted critical reforms to improve the inland navigation system, both in WRRDA 2014 and a fuel tax increase requested by industry, that are intended to recapitalize our aging inland navigation system.   While a large component of the Inland Navigation Trust Fund is dedicated to completing the Olmsted Lock and Dam project, it will be interesting to hear from the Corps as to how they plan on accelerating and prioritizing the other inland navigation projects on the Ohio and Mississippi River systems.

Additionally, the Corps is responsible for operating and maintaining the channels that lead to and from the Nation’s large network of coastal ports.  At any given time only 35% of these channels are at their authorized widths or depths, and we remain concerned the Administration’s budget requests for these activities are far short of what is required.  Congress did its part in FY 2016 by providing almost $1.3 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which meets the suggested targets from WRRDA 2014.  While other trust funds have solvency challenges, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is being neglected by this Administration.  Their annual budget for the Corps of Engineers does not reflect the priorities of Congress or the Nation.

Given the vast expanse of navigation channels, advanced technology can help improve navigation safety and advance economic security, but only to a certain point.  These technologies need to be coupled with adequate channel maintenance and recapitalization of antiquated infrastructure to ensure the Nation’s competitive edge in a global marketplace.   

Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information.

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