Senators introduce port transparency bill in wake of prolonged West Coast ports strife
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On May 12, U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), along with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced common-sense sunshine reforms as a part of S. 1298 to help with early identification of port disruptions caused by labor strife or other factors before they inflict serious damage on businesses and the broader U.S. economy.
At a hearing before the Commerce Committee earlier this year, Thune highlighted the challenges South Dakota businesses and agriculture producers have faced in light of the recent nine month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports. Some estimates say that these disputes cost the economy up to $2.5 billion per day and the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause to the anemic 0.2 percent annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2015.
“Every day, South Dakota businesses and Ag producers depend on the efficient operation of U.S. ports,” said Thune. “The recent labor dispute at West Coast ports underscored how a lack of data and transparency to quantify on-going problems at our ports can affect businesses from coast to coast. At present, statistics for air cargo and even forms of ground transportation are more developed and accessible than those for maritime transport. This legislation adds needed sunshine to maritime shipping through our ports to help head off future economically destructive impediments to commerce.”
“A labor dispute at one of our ports can cause significant damage to U.S. employers and to our economy – the recent nine-month dispute at the West Coast ports made it difficult for auto manufacturers and suppliers in Tennessee to keep production lines running,” said Alexander. “This bill will help shine a light on what’s happening at our nation’s ports before a labor dispute erupts and threatens our economy.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation over half of all containerized imports enter the U.S. through West Coast ports. The Department has separately stated that a “lack of complete data on U.S. international freight continues to hamper research and analysis of trends in international freight movement and its impact on transportation activity within the United States.” While the Maritime Administration (MARAD) does produce its annual Statistical Snapshot of 20 water-freight-related statistics on freight volume and port of entry, MARAD has reported that the lack of a national standard for performance measures and “the lack of a reporting process have stymied its attempts to measure the efficiency of major U.S. ports.”
S. 1298 creates a new level of transparency and accountability for ports, many of which are government owned, by requiring:
• The director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) to establish a port performance statistics program and report annually to Congress on the performance and capacity of the Nation’s key ports.
• U.S. port authorities that are subject to federal regulation or that receive federal assistance to report annually to BTS.
• The Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, to report to Congress on 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 Senate Commerce Committee has broad jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Transportation and our nation’s transportation system, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce.