Ups and downs of American ports

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

26 May 2017


Just over three weeks ago the US Congress approved the 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, to applause from AAPA the country port authorities association. The Bill including government funding for several projects including $2.66Bn for navigation projects and studies, $1.301Bn for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund work and $28M for the Donor and Energy Transfer Ports Program. $60M was put aside for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program. However, AAPA is not so keen on the 2018 Budget which was released by the White House this week. Among the budget proposals for next year is eliminating the Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) TIGER grants program, which last year awarded ports $61.8M in multimodal infrastructure grants such as dock, rail and road improvements. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), which Congress last funded at S100M and which provided 35 port security-related grants in fiscal 2017, would see funding reduced to S47.8M – a 52% cut. President Trump has also proposed cutting the overall Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget by 31%, while the DERA grants would see an 83% reduction to just $10M. Over the next decade, AAPA is calling for $66Bn in federal funds for port-related infrastructure and recommends investing $33.8Bn to maintain and modernise deep-draught shipping channels, and $32.03Bn to build road and rail connections to ports and improve port facility infrastructure. The budget has yet to be passed by congress and many believe that it will struggle to survive without massive changes. However, there is recognition that US debt needs to be cut and if Trump’s protectionist agenda gets underway, the traffic coming through ports will be reduced in any case. There are however those that will see AAPA’s request for funds for modernising deep-draught channels as being just one of many side effects of the increasing size of vessels that has been undertaken by some shipowners with little regard for the effect on port and navigation authorities budgets in needing to accommodate such vessels.