“AMERICA NEEDS A STRONG AND VIBRANT U.S.-FLAG MERCHANT MARINE.
[YOU] CAN CONTINUE TO COUNT ON ME TO SUPPORT THE JONES ACT, WHICH
INCLUDES THE PASSENGER SERVICES ACT, THE CONTINUED EXCLUSION OF
MARITIME SERVICES FROM INTERNATIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS” AND THE
CARGO PREFERENCE LAWS.
— THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA
FROM AN AUG. 28 LETTER TO SEAFARERS INTERNATIONAL UNION PRESIDENT MICHAEL SACCO
consensus that emerged from the briefing, however,
was that real change is coming.
K&L partner Emanuel L. Rouvelas, who has
watched Washington operate under seven presidents,
said he was struck by the host of new possibilities and
the speed with which things are likely to occur.
Rouvelas said he expected rapid action because the
mounting economic crisis demands it, and because
Obama’s large popular vote total and the strong
Democratic majority in Congress should make it possible to break through the legislative gridlock that had
tied up a closely divided Congress for much of
President George W. Bush’s second term.
As the new year dawned, Obama was reported to be
discussing with congressional leaders a stimulus package that could total as much as $850 billion, with at
least one-third going to federally financed infrastructure projects.
The K&L Gates experts said those infrastructure
investments might not include projects directly in the
ports or inland waterways in the near term, but the
planned work on highways and railroads could result
in improved access to maritime facilities.
In the longer term, there is hope that money would
be provided to repair or replace locks, dams and other
facilities on the inland waterways — many of which
are aging and in poor condition — or other projects
vital to the maritime industry, the experts said.
One area of possible action that has been advocated
unsuccessfully by shipping companies, affected industries and local government officials is the need to dredge
shipping channels in the Great Lakes. Falling water levels in the lakes have forced bulk carriers to lighten loads,
cutting total annual cargo by 200,000 tons.
Inclusion of maritime projects in the stimulus package drew support late last year from a recently formed
bipartisan coalition of public officials called Building
America’s Future. Led by New York Republican Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, and Govs. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., and
Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., the group sent a letter to congressional leaders urging major investments
in infrastructure, to include ports as well as highways,
bridges and transit systems.
The officials said tens of billions of dollars in projects are planned and ready for funding, and that $1 billion invested in infrastructure can create 47,500 jobs.
There also is the possibility that shipbuilding could
get a boost from the efforts to create employment.
Rouvelas noted that twice in the post-World War II era
the government has approved programs to subsidize
commercial shipbuilding during economic downturns.
While President Dwight D. Eisenhower is remembered for launching the interstate highway system, he
also created the Mariner Program, which subsidized
construction of many ships in the 1950s, Rouvelas said.
And in the 1970s, Congress authorized construction of
300 subsidized ships, but only 86 were built.
Although he would not predict that would happen
again, Rouvelas said, “the range of things that are possible is much greater than we’ve seen.”
And 18 senators, representing both parties, signed a
Dec. 15 letter to Obama urging him to support “a
robust shipbuilding budget and policies” for military
and commercial vessels.
“Such policies and funding would create and sustain
highly skilled jobs, strengthen our national and homeland security, and modernize and expand our domestic
marine transportation highway,” the letter said, adding
that those initiatives would re-energize the shipbuilding industry, which employs 400,000 people.
The letter called for additional shipbuilding funds
to help the Navy reach its goal of a 313-ship fleet,
replace old Coast Guard vessels and support the Title
XI ship-loan program for commercial vessels administered by the Maritime Administration.
“More ships need to be built to meet our security,
energy and transportation needs,” the letter states.
It was signed by 11 Democrats and seven Republicans, including influential members of the Senate
Appropriations, Armed Services and Commerce committees, most of whom had shipyards or port facilities
in their states.
The maritime industry also could have a supporter
in Obama’s nominee for transportation secretary, former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., a state heavily dependent
on inland waterways shipping.