Industry seeks port congestion relief

by Erica Shaffer
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US exporters hope federal legislation will prevent another West Coast logjam
US exporters hope federal legislation will prevent another West Coast port slowdown.

WASHINGTON – Business groups are urging members of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to pass a bill that would require all port authorities receiving federal assistance to track performance at US ports.

The bill, S. 1298, is part of the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act, which authorizes tracking by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation for the next six years. S. 1298 establishes new transparency and accountability requirements for ports, many of which are government owned. Under the bill, the director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) must establish a port performance statistics program and report annually to Congress on the performance and capacity of key ports.

US port authorities subject to federal regulation or that receive federal assistance must also report annually to BTS.

Finally, the Secretary of Transportation, in collaboration with the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, must report to Congress a port’s performance before and after the expiration of maritime labor agreements to help indicate whether labor discussions have impacted operations, the estimated economic impact of such disputes and roughly how long it will take for shipments to return to normal.

The US Meat Export Federation reported that the West Coast ports labor dispute was especially damaging not only for exporters, but farmers, ranchers and stakeholder in the red meat supply chain. Philip Seng, president and CEO of USMEF, said 80 percent of red meat exports pass through West Coast ports.

In a letter to the committee, the National Retail Federation and other business groups urged passage of the legislation, which they say will help avoid a repeat of the West Coast port slowdown that resulted from a dispute between labor unions and port operators.

“US ports are a key component in the American transportation system and the global supply chain that thousands of businesses and millions of workers depend on,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, due to a variety of contributing factors, congestion has become commonplace at ports across the country.”

The letter went on to say that “This congestion has resulted in slowdowns, bottlenecks and chokepoints that impact the efficient flow of cargo with far-reaching impacts. One only needs to look at the damage caused to the US economy from the slowdowns and congestion that impacted US ports earlier this year.”

The committee also adopted an amendment that requires each port authority to collect monthly port performance measures. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) submitted the amendment. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Thune are original co-sponsors in introducing S. 1298.

In June, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act, which grants governors the power to appoint a board of inquiry to investigate port labor disputes if the dispute harms the US economy. Governors could petition federal courts to stop slowdowns, strikes or lockouts at ports in their state.

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