DeFazio bill would unlock billions for port and harbor maintenance

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore,}

Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has introduced H.R. 440, the “Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act,” which would unlock billions in already-collected fees to maintain U.S. ports and harbors.

Currently, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (Trust Fund) collects more revenue from shippers than Congress has appropriated to the U.S. Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers to maintain harbors.

“Approximately $9.3 billion in already collected revenue sits idle in the U.S. Treasury, not being used for its intended purpose of investing in our nation’s ports and harbors,” says a press release issued by Chairman DeFazio’s office. “At the same time, some ports and harbors of all sizes struggle to remain competitive in the global shipment of goods and services or remain open to meet the needs of the communities that depend on a vibrant maritime and commercial fishing industry. While shippers continue to pay into the Trust Fund for congressionally-approved maintenance activities, the federal government has not carried out many of them.”

This bipartisan bill makes it easier for Congress to appropriate any funds collected in the Trust Fund for authorized harbor maintenance needs, including the existing $9.3 billion balance in the Trust Fund. The legislation enables the expenditure of approximately $34 billion over the next decade, which will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to dredge all federal harbors to their constructed widths and depths.

“As someone who represents a coastal district, I’ve heard from countless fishermen, ship, tug and barge operators about the critical need for safe and well-maintained ports and harbors that allow them to do their jobs and keep our economy moving. And I agree,” said Chairman DeFazio. “The federal government should be using the fees it collects at our ports for their intended purpose — harbor maintenance. By merely spending what is already being collected we can ensure our nation’s ports and harbors remain open for business and can continue to sustain our local, regional, and national economies.

“Ultimately it is taxpayers and consumers who pay the cost of the HMT, as a pass through on the price of goods shipped through ports,” continued DeFazio. “However, when harbors are inefficiently dredged and maintained it leads to delays and increased prices. So, taxpayers are paying for a service that is not being done, and as a result, have to pay MORE for the goods they buy because of the lack of maintenance. It’s time Congress fully funds the operation and maintenance of our commercial harbors, including critical jetty and breakwater work. I urge my colleagues to support this critical, bipartisan legislation.”


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