Cantwell, Murray Secure Major Wins for Washington Ports in Senate Bill

Water Resources Development Act will help protect U.S. ports from cargo diversion, ensures consistent funding for small port operation and maintenance needs

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) secured critical reforms to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA). This will increase investment in Washington state and other U.S. ports, which in turn will support American jobs and help U.S. ports maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly global maritime economy.

Specifically, the provisions Senators Cantwell and Murray fought to include will support the operation and maintenance of ports and federal navigation channels, ensure greater equity for ports, and support the safe and efficient movement of goods. WRDA permanently authorizes $25 million for donor ports from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for rebates to importers and shippers transporting cargo through their port or for port infrastructure improvements. The Senators also worked to make permanent a 10 percent set-aside for small ports and harbors, ensuring these critical economic drivers in communities throughout Washington consistently receive dedicated funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

“Washington state is a major player in international trade,” said Senator Cantwell. “The Northwest Seaport Alliance alone impacts almost 50,000 jobs in our state and supports nearly $380 million in state and local.  With so much at stake, we need to ensure American ports of all sizes have the tools and resources they need to move Washington products across the globe.”

“Ports are critical to the Washington state economy, but the current system has put them at a competitive disadvantage for far too long,” Senator Murray said. “With this legislation, small ports get the certainty they need, and we take another step toward ensuring greater equity in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to help donor ports maintain operations and keep customers coming back. This is good for ports, this is good for jobs, and this is good for Washington state.”

“This bill would provide certainty for HMT funding benefits to customers like ours, who have contributed so much and realized so little over the years,” said John Creighton, co-chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance. “We appreciate the continued efforts of Senators Murray and Cantwell to give us tools to grow jobs and cargo volumes and maintain a competitive gateway for Washington manufacturers and growers.”

“This bill is a big win for small ports in the Northwest and around the nation,” said Kristin Meira, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. “Dedicated federal funding for our smaller ports means that Washington residents will continue to have access to the open ocean, one of the state’s most important natural resources. This is critical for commercial and recreational fishing, as well as so many other industries that support our coastal communities.”

Currently, the Harbor Maintenance Tax is not being collected or spent in a way that ensures ports can compete on a level playing field. As “donor ports,” the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma currently receive just pennies for each dollar contributed to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund from cargo unloaded at the Northwest Seaport Alliance. In addition, for more than a decade, U.S. ports like Seattle and Tacoma have seen ports outside of the United States target and capture U.S. bound cargo in part because of the cost advantage of not charging the Harbor Maintenance Tax. The Cantwell-Murray provisions in WRDA work towards addressing these inequities, enhancing our economic competitiveness, and supporting jobs in Washington state.

In particular, the provisions in WRDA would:

  • Make the 10 percent set-aside from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for small ports and harbors permanent;
  • Make the $25 million rebate provision for donor ports permanent;
  • Clarify the Army Corps can target rebates to discretionary cargo most at risk of diversion to ports outside of the United States; and
  • Ensure that rebates are funded out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Senators Cantwell and Murray have been working for years to overhaul the outdated Harbor Maintenance Tax and Trust Fund. The reforms secured in WRDA build upon their work in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, which for the first time in history addressed the system’s inequities toward donor ports and cargo diversion, and subsequently fought to fund the rebate provision in the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill. It also incorporates components of their more comprehensive solution, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act.