Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 23, 2014

Posts in "Ports"

December 17, 2014

FedEx See Big Port Congestion Spillover Effects

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FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith said Wednesday, “The slow-down in the West Coast ports has been a much bigger deal than people think and a tremendous amount of inventory was simply not put through the ports in the time frame that the retailers had expected.”

Smith spoke on his company’s earnings conference call for the second quarter of its 2015 fiscal year.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been in contract talks for months with port operators represented by the Pacific Maritime Association. In addition, there have been severe problems with the distribution of truck chassis and other factors slowing down traffic.

Smith said “because of these delays at the West Coast ports and the East Coast ports, because a lot of people saw this coming and diverted traffic into the East Coast ports, we [FedEx] received a lot of traffic on the two coasts which normally we would have anticipate being from distribution centers in the middle of the country.”

Full story

December 12, 2014

Friday Q & A: World Shipping Council’s Christopher Koch, Part Two

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A cargo ship is loaded with containers for export at Jakarta, Indonesia (Photo: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

Here’s the second part of our interview with Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council.

Regarding port congestion, especially at Los Angeles and Long Beach, how much of that is due to the shipping companies using bigger and bigger ships so that when they arrive, there’s more stuff to unload?

The terminals are still going to have to handle the same volume of cargo. It’s coming in bigger blocks.

There are many parents to the congestion on the West Coast….  These same ships are not causing congestion problems in the Asian ports where the cargo is being loaded so I think you can’t really lay it off all on big ships.

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Friday Q & A: World Shipping Council’s Christopher Koch, Part One

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Cargo ships unload goods in the Tunisian port city of Rades. (Photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

The big-screen televisions and cotton shirts that Americans buy come across the ocean on container ships which make today’s global economy possible. We spoke this week with Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council which represents Maersk, Hanjin, APL, and other major shipping companies.

Is there legislation likely to emerge from Congress next year that would be of concern to the shipping industry?

There’s nothing that the shipping industry is particularly looking to Congress to do next year. There’s always the ongoing question of the ports working with the Army Corps of Engineers on getting dredging money for particular deepening projects or maintenance projects.

Are U.S. ports at a disadvantage because not enough is spent on dredging, maintaining, etc?

In terms of the deep-water container ports, the major container ports are being maintained at the [required] depths – so Baltimore is at 50 feet, Norfolk is at 50 feet, New York, I believe, is finished going to 50 feet, Charleston is in the process of getting there, Savannah is in the process of getting to 48, Miami is at 50.

And on the West Coast you don’t have any draft problems at Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland or L.A.-Long Beach.

I think the ports, from a dredging perspective, are doing OK. They would like to have more money to get it done faster.

How has the decline in the price of oil affected the industry?

There’s always a lag. The shipping lines always try to recover their fuel costs from customers and their success is always questionable, so it’s always a cost pressure on them.

Clearly the dropping of fuel prices has been helpful to take some of the cost pressure off.

But at the same time, many of those fuel costs are recovered through something called a “BAF” or a bunker adjustment factor. For the contracts that use those kind of mechanisms, the price automatically drops to the customer when the fuel price drops.

I’ve seen reports that bunker [fuel] prices have been coming down since this price reduction started a couple of months ago.

At the same time, what the industry is facing, as of Jan. 1, is a very steep increase in the cost of fuel because of the implementation of the requirements in the emission control areas.

Emission control areas are areas set up by governments under the international marine pollution convention that provide particularly strict sulfur standards in marine fuel.

The U.S. and Canada have an emission control area jointly within 200 miles of the U.S. shores; there’s also one in the Baltic, one in the North Sea, and one in the Caribbean.

In those areas you have to use low-sulfur fuel and that’s considerably more expensive.

December 4, 2014

Despite Price Drop, Crude-By-Rail Remains Big Issue

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The drop in the price of oil since OPEC failed in its meeting last week to agree on production cuts has sparked speculation about whether production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region will decline as some marginal drilling operations become financially less viable.

Some market observers see the drop in the price of railroad stocks since last week’s OPEC meeting as a harbinger of less Bakken crude being produced and less being moved by rail.

(The price of tank car manufacturer Greenbrier is down 20 percent since last Thursday’s market close.)

But whatever the price movements may indicate, crude-by-rail remains an urgent political issue.

Full story

December 1, 2014

The Week Ahead: Transit Tax Break, Takata, And Sustainable Investment

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Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is working to restore tax break parity for mass transit users. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Members of Congress try to complete their lame-duck spending bill and decide on the fate of a package of tax breaks – including reviving one that expired at the end of 2013 that gave the same tax benefit to employer-provided mass transit commuting as to employed-provided parking.


The OneRail Coalition, which includes the American Public Transportation Association, the Association of American Railroads, and railroad workers’ unions, holds a Capitol Hill briefing to promote federal and private sector investment in rail projects.

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November 21, 2014

A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

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Container ships at the Maersk terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This week we asked whether the cancellation of a planned streetcar line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is perhaps a turning point for trendy transportation/urban development projects.

We heard in person from Bjorn Kjos, the head of Norwegian Air Shuttle who has set up an Ireland-based subsidiary to offer low-priced transatlantic service, a potential threat to legacy U.S. airlines such as United and Delta. Kjos is being stymied by Obama administration regulators.

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November 18, 2014

Freight Coalition Looks For Dedicated Revenue Stream

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Container terminal in the Port of Los Angeles (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A coalition of shippers, port authorities, retailers and other business groups is calling for a new revenue source to go solely to paying for large-scale infrastructure projects that would ease the movement of goods.

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition doesn’t have a unified position on what this new revenue source should be. But the Coalition will focus on the revenue issue as Congress begins to work on next year’s surface transportation bill.

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November 17, 2014

Coming Up This Week: Airbags, California’s Electric Vehicle Future, Freight Wish List

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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., will preside at a hearing Thursday on the Takata airbag recalls. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

As the lame duck session of Congress ponders how to pay for government operations after Dec. 11 when the continuing resolution expires, some members are looking ahead to the transportation policy choices they’ll have make in the new Congress.


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hears from Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, and other witnesses as it looks to its complex task of reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The current FAA authorization expires in September.

Also on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Freight Stakeholders Coalition will present its ideas on how next year’s surface transportation bill could help American manufacturing and U.S. workers’ productivity by financing freight rail projects.

The speakers include Robyn Boerstling, the director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, and Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities.


The R Street Institute, a Washington think tank whose mission is to “promote free markets and limited, effective government,” hosts a panel on how cities, including the nation’s capital, are regulating driver-for-hire services such as Lyft and Uber.

Chris Massey, director of government relations at Lyft and Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute will be among the speakers.

Last week the R Street Institute issued a report grading 50 of the largest U.S. cities on their friendliness to for-hire vehicle services.


The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on the Takata airbag defects and the vehicle recall process.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who’ll become ranking Democrat on the committee next year, will chair the hearing. Nelson has been one of several senators to voice his unhappiness with the performance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency which after 10 months still lacks a permanent head since President Obama hasn’t nominated one.

Two weeks ago. two members of the committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Takata.

The New York Times has reported that ex-employees of Takata said the company knew as far back as 2004 that some of its airbags were defective, but executives didn’t alert regulators.

Also on Thursday, from the land of Tesla, the California Institute for Federal Policy Research holds a briefing on Capitol Hill on the progress of electric vehicles in California and efforts by utilities to invest in infrastructure and support electric fleets.

Executives from PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric will brief and field questions.

October 23, 2014

Energy Boom – And Sand – Benefit Union Pacific

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A Union Pacific train in Illinois (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Now is a great time to own a piece of a railroad, judging by the profits announced Thursday by the nation’s largest, Union Pacific.

The railroad, which serves West Coast and Gulf Coast ports and is a major shipper of grain, as well as of coal from Wyoming to power plants, set an all-time record for quarterly profits and for freight revenue, up 11 percent from the third quarter last year.

Full story

October 22, 2014

Infrastructure Loan Fears Misguided, Reader Says

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A Staten Island ferry heads across New York harbor. New ferry terminals were built in 2005 with TIFIA loan backing (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

TIFIA is the federal loan program, which uses Treasury funds to help finance state and local governments’ infrastructure projects: bridges, ferry terminals, toll roads, etc.

Last week I mentioned that the new bridge across the Hudson River in New York is financed partly by a $1.6 billion TIFIA loan. TIFIA, which is run by the Department of Transportation, stands for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

Full story

October 10, 2014

A Look Back: Ebola Economics, Jihadists With European Passports & Biden On LaGuardia

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Travelers at Kennedy Airport in New York (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

The risk of Ebola infection and the economic damage Ebola fears could wreak on aviation and tourism were big themes of our week.

As the Obama administration revised its plans to screen air passengers for signs of the deadly infection and as one Ebola-infected patient died in Dallas, some wondered about the efficacy of airport screening. Full story

Full Container Screening Not Feasible, Johnson Says

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

One sometimes overlooked part of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s job got attention on Thursday during a question-and-answer session at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Veteran Washington attorney Lloyd Hand asked Johnson to “say a few words about your level of comfort on maritime security, given as much as 90, 95 percent of the goods that come into this country come in these cargo containers.”

Full story

October 8, 2014

Shipbuilders, Oil Refiners Spar Over Cost of U.S. Ships

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The Alaskan Navigator oil tanker at the Port of Long Beach, Calif. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The Jones Act, which requires that ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports be built in the United States and crewed by American citizens, has been on the books for nearly 100 years. It seems to have good “genes” for survival.

But taking nothing for granted, American shipbuilders, who are enjoying a surge of growth due to the boom in domestic crude oil, vigorously oppose any move to repeal or weaken the 1920 law. Full story

October 6, 2014

Efficacy Of Screening At Center Of Ebola Travel Debate

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The debate continued through the weekend on whether the Obama administration needs to do more to keep people infected with the Ebola virus from flying to the United States or to stop them at U.S. ports of entry.

Late Friday afternoon, Deputy National Security Adviser Lisa Monaco said the administration had already taken steps to ensure that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) workers “are trained to identify symptomatic individuals” who arrive at ports of entry.

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The Week Ahead: Aviation & Airport Security

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will speak Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This week is crowded with events focusing on aviation safety and security at airports.

The disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 in March, the July 17 shooting down of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine and the potential threat of terrorists with European passports able to travel easily to the United States form the backdrop for the week’s events.

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