Klobuchar: “We have a winner here in terms of pushing the shipping industry and actually showing that the Congress speaks with one voice when it comes to shipping rates”
WASHINGTON - At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Department of Transportation’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg voiced his support for the swift enactment of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)’s bipartisan legislation to fix supply chains and ease shipping backlogs. The Ocean Shipping Reform Act, led by Klobuchar and Senator John Thune (R-SD), passed the Senate unanimously in March.
Klobuchar emphasized the need to enact the Ocean Shipping Reform Act: “We have a winner here and we have a winner in terms of pushing the shipping industry and actually showing that the Congress speaks with one voice when it comes to shipping rates.”
Buttigieg concurred, voicing his support for the swift enactment of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act: “Anything we can do to make shipping more efficient and effective is going to make a difference at a time when we're fighting inflation with everything that we've got. I want to recognize your leadership…in moving the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and the sooner that it can be enacted and signed, the sooner the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) can get to work with support from my department in making good on those provisions.”
The Ocean Shipping Reform Act was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 29 senators and endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including the American Association of Port Authorities. The legislation will:
- Require ocean carriers to certify that late fees —known in maritime parlance as “detention and demurrage” charges—comply with federal regulations or face penalties;
- Shift burden of proof regarding the reasonableness of “detention or demurrage” charges from the invoiced party to the ocean carrier;
- Prohibit ocean carriers from unreasonably declining shipping opportunities for U.S. exports, as determined by the FMC in new required rulemaking;
- Require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and 20-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States;
- Authorize the FMC to self-initiate investigations of ocean common carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures, as appropriate; and
- Establish new authority for the FMC to register shipping exchanges.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you, Secretary, for being here and for all your good work. You and I have discussed this bill a few times and I so appreciate your leadership on the shipping and supply chain. I think we know that we have to get this done.
The past two years have highlighted significant supply chain disruptions. Price of shipping containers increased fourfold. Of course, that goes on the backs of consumers because the prices are passed down to them from manufacturers and farmers who are hurt by this. And that's why Senator Thune and I are joined together, and I want to appreciate the leadership of the Chair and the ranking member on this as well, to get our bill passed The Ocean Shipping Reform Act through the Senate, not just this committee, thanks to the chair and rankings leadership but also through the Senate floor. And now it's over in the House where there is a similar version. But I just want to get this done, as does Senator Thune, because I think the more that time ticks on, as we know anything can happen in this town, things get delayed, and we have a winner here and we have a winner in terms of pushing the shipping industry and actually showing that the Congress speaks with one voice when it comes to shipping rates. Could you talk about the urgency from your perspective of getting this done?
Secretary Buttigieg: Thank you. Yes, we know we're in an urgent moment when it comes to our supply chains. Anything we can do to make shipping more efficient and effective is going to make a difference at a time when we're fighting inflation with everything that we've got. I want to recognize your leadership and that of others that you mentioned in moving the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and the sooner that it can be enacted and signed, the sooner the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) can get to work with support from my department in making good on those provisions.
Senator Klobuchar: Exactly. And I mean, there is some talk of putting it in another bill. I just, you know, whatever. But months and months can go by. A bill that has like 60, 70 conferees, and we actually have all of the groups that have endorsed this bill. And I really think it's time to move and work this through the House because the months go by and we don't send the message that we want to the international shipping conglomerate.
The other thing I wanted to talk about was trucker shortages. You know, in addition to the congestion at our port. We've all faced a shortage of truck drivers. I think estimated the trucking industry was short a record 80,000 drivers in 2021. Could you talk about what the Department is doing on that front?
Secretary Buttigieg: Yes, we view this as a major issue. We need to make sure we're acting to both recruit and to retain truck drivers. On the recruiting side, we've been working with the Department of Labor on registered apprenticeships, we've seen a huge swell of trucking companies and consortium joining that, we're working to recruit more veterans. We have the pilot for younger drivers to safely enter the workforce, and we need to do more to make sure more women thrive in trucking careers. So we have a whole body that's been set up now to work on that. And there's the retention piece. We lose about 300,000 truck drivers a year and so we need to look at everything from working conditions to compensation. Among the conditions I would mention, critically important truck parking, the sooner we can address those the sooner that we can not only bring people into the career, but have people stay and thrive in that vitally important part of our supply chains.
Senator Klobuchar: Very good. Thank you for your emphasis on that. Distracted driving, I’ve long been working on that, including with Senator Hoeven. We've got, everyday eight people die and more than 1000 are injured in crashes. We've got money for it in the bipartisan infrastructure bill on that. Can you talk about the department's plans when it comes to distracted driving?
Secretary Buttigieg: We made such gains as a country when it came to impaired driving, only to see the rise of distracted driving especially since the advent of the smartphone. We need to recognize this as a major source of risk and major factor in fatalities. And as we roll out our new national roadway safety strategy, attention to this will be one of the core elements of our work to save lives on our roadways.
Senator Klobuchar: Okay, very good. Going a little more local, the Blatnik Bridge, which connects Minnesota and Wisconsin. In fact, the President the day after the State of the Union visited the Blatnik Bridge and earlier this year, your Department announced significant funding for a number of grant programs including Mega projects, projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding programs.
How is the DOT coordinating and communicating with state departments of transportation to promote competitive grants. I appreciate the hope we've already gotten with the Congressionally initiated projects, as well as the grants you're already giving out and in my mind, a rapid pace as we all know from being home. But talk about some of these bridge projects and how important they are.
Secretary Buttigieg: Thank you. We’ve made over $70 billion available. There's more where that came from in programs ranging from the bridge investment program to the award selections for programs like Mega which you cited. This is especially important for these large bridge projects that are simply bigger than what's contemplated by a lot of our competitive grant programs. We're in close touch with the state departments of transportation. I would add governors who are often enthusiastic about these major bridge projects and we're committed to making sure that there's a smooth process for those applications.