WASHINGTON, DC -- Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today addressed a meeting of the Propeller Club. Chairman Stevens’ remarks touched on the maritime industry, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, the effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, today’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the status of the Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriation bills.
Following is the text of Chairman Stevens’ speech:
Well, thank you very much, Gloria. I really do thank you for the opportunity to be back with you again. As I look around the room, I see a lot of faces that go back quite a while. Some of you may know that Dan and I were really sort of understudies to Warren Magnuson. And, Maggie was one of the great friends of your industry. I bet you didn’t know, though, that the desk, and the big chair, and couch in my room were Warren Magnuson’s. Just as he was getting ready to leave the Senate, he called me over and he called me son once in a while, and he said, “Son, I just can’t stand the thought that someone I don’t know is going to sit behind this desk, or sit in this chair, or lie down on that couch.” He said, “I want you to take them. Take them to your office and make me a promise that as long as you’re here they’ll stay in your office.” And, they’re still there.
We learned a lot from those guys in those days about bipartisanship and understanding. One of the best things I remember about Warren Magnuson was when we were talking about maritime education for our people. He said, “Why don’t you go to Portugal and the Soviet Union, and go find out how they train their guys there and in Japan?” So, you know, I went to Portugal and the Soviet Union, crossed the continent and went to Japan and came back and reported to him. And, he said, “That’s what I thought.” It was just an exercise in learning. He would send us all out to do things. But, I do believe that, both Dan and I have a great interest in your industry directly from Warren Magnuson.
The recent hurricanes that have come through are presenting a significant challenge to all the maritime industries. Katrina, Rita, and now Wilma impacted more than 20 American Association of Port Authority (AAPA)-member ports and, of course, many private and public ports along the Gulf of Mexico and along the states of coasts that were impacted: Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. These are all things you know. Many of those facilities are going to have to be relocated and for some it’s going to take months if not years to rebuild.
Dan and I are co-chairs of the Commerce Committee, as you know. And, with the members of our Committee we continue to seek help from your industry to determine how we might assist in quickly recovering from these crises and maintain U.S.-flagged and U.S.-crewed vessels to meet the challenges of business and transportation. That is one of our top priorities.
We’re going to have a hearing next week. We’ll go to New Orleans on Sunday and have an inspection tour and then on Monday hold a hearing to determine which of those redevelopment activities that are going to take place we should monitor with our oversight responsibilities. We do have oversight responsibility over transportation infrastructure, ports and the maritime industry, fisheries, trade, insurance, tourism, and economic development. So, we’re going to try to look at as much as we can with delegations from that area to see what we can do to help.
Last week we passed the Coast Guard Authorization bill with a Hurricane Katrina relief amendment. The House passed its own version and we believe we’re going to be able to meet very soon with the conferees. We’ve named our conferees and they are Senator Inouye, of course, and Senators Lott, Snowe, Smith, Cantwell, Lautenberg, and me. And, our Senate version includes the temporary authority to extend merchant mariner licenses and Certificates of Inspection in the Gulf region due to the destruction of processing facilities in those areas hit by the hurricanes. This temporary relief from some regulatory and statutory requirements should help revitalize commerce in the Gulf.
We’re lucky now because, as you know, the House chair is my great friend and long-time companion, we served together in the State Legislature, Don Young. Our staffs are already working to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. And, we hope to have that ready to send to the President before Thanksgiving.
September 11th created a new security environment for us. This, too, is one of the great problems in our Committee because we have the Coast Guard, which is critical to security efforts. And, we have to find ways to work with that, as well as with the Transportation Security Administration, which we also have jurisdiction over. Senator Inouye and I cosponsored the Maritime Security Act of 2003, which reauthorizes the Maritime Security Act of 1996. It will go into effect this month. It will expand the number of vessels participating in the Maritime Security Program to 60 and increase the levels of compensation provided to the operators of those vessels.
The President recommended an increase in this program from $98 million to $156 million. And the Senate’s Transportation Appropriations bill, which passed on October 20th, is now in conference and contains that amount and fulfills the President’s request.
We are in the midst of the appropriations process. Three of the bills have passed Congress – the Homeland Security, Interior, and Legislative Branch bills – and have been signed into law. The balance are in conference. The conference on Agriculture has been completed and we expect to get it approved this week, probably tomorrow. The Defense bill is in conference and I am the Chairman of that Conference this year on the Subcommittee on Defense. And, the Energy and Water, D.C., Foreign Operations, Labor-HHS-Education, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation are all in conference. And, we’re working very hard to see if we can get them done. All the bills will be done, I believe, before the Thanksgiving holiday. I now contemplate we’ll be here through the week after Thanksgiving unless the nomination of the new Justice, which we just received this morning extends that process.
Judge Alito was in this morning and met with Senator Frist, Senator McConnell, Senator Specter, and myself. That is going to be, I think, a long process. He is a very distinguished jurist and served in the Attorney General’s office. He served in the Office of Solicitor General. He was U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey and has been on the Circuit Court since 1990. I’m told he has written over 300 opinions. So, it’s going to take a while, I think, for the Committee to review his background. How long it will be, I don’t know. I do hope that we won’t face a partisan delay on moving this Justice because, many people don’t think about it, but Sandra Day O’Connor offered her resignation, you’ll recall, and said she would stay until her spot on the Court was filled by an appointment confirmed by the Senate. She has personal reasons why she wants to step down and I think we owe it to her. She’s been a distinguished Justice of the Supreme Court, and, I think, a very distinguished lady. She’s come to us and said she means what she says – she would like to be able to retire this year. And, that means Judge Alito’s going to have to be confirmed. When she submitted her resignation she did say that she would stay until a nominee was confirmed to take her place.
We’re trying to get through that. We’re trying to avoid an omnibus appropriations bill, which is a difficult thing to do, but I do think we can get the job done if we concentrate on it. You know, it’s not that far away. We have about four weeks, really, to fulfill the things we have to do and it’s going to take some real bipartisan cooperation to get there.
Last month, Homeland Secretary Chertoff issued a blanket Jones Act waiver for petroleum-related vessels as part of his department’s response to the hurricanes in the Gulf. Our national security is closely linked to our access to energy resources. The Administration, I think, was justified to issue that waiver, but reports that available domestic vessels and crew capacity were overlooked raises concerns on our Committee. We’re going to watch and monitor that situation very closely. I do not think that the situation warrants an extension of that waiver and I hope we don’t have to get into a battle over it.
The Title XI program has faced considerable criticism in recent years. Dan and I remain supportive of that program and half of the losses in this program have taken place at a time of severe economic disruption. And, with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and now, with all of the problems related to these hurricanes, it’s essential that we all realize the value of Title XI.
On another subject, we have a real difficult problem on the development of our Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska. It’s an important issue to our state and the country. I do thank all of you for your support. This is the area known as ANWR to some people. We appreciate your industry’s support of proceeding to explore in the Coastal Plain. And, as part of this budget reconciliation process that we’re going to face this week, this provision is not subject to filibuster, but it is subject to a 20 hour limit on debate. We do believe we have the votes to keep this provision in the bill. The question is will we have the votes to pass the bill and that’s going to be a difficult problem. But, I know you realize that every year since 1980, I have tried to fulfill the commitment made to me by the amendment of Senator Jackson of Washington and Tsongas of Massachusetts that this area could be developed. This was part of the massive settlement that was called ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act), which was passed by Congress before the election of 1980. And, before the election President Carter asked Mo Udall not to send him the bill. After the election he received it and signed it. He had said that he would have vetoed the bill if he had been reelected. So, it’s been a political issue all these years. In Alaska we quote Robert Service – “A promise made is debt unpaid.” This was a promise that was made to us in 1980 and it has taken a long time to fulfill. I do hope that we will be successful this year.
We’re still, I believe, a leader of the world in the maritime industry. Dan and I travel to China quite often and we are the co-chairs of the U.S. portion of the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Conference. And, we travel throughout the world not only in that endeavor, but in others, going to Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever we have to go as part of the Defense side. We also travel within the country. One of the most interesting trips I had last year was going to the Port of Los Angeles. I grew up out there and went to high school just north of there. I remember when it was San Pedro and Long Beach. Now, it’s the Port of Los Angeles. It’s a real marvel to see that place. It’s the eighth busiest port in the world and I think we have to look at that and understand the complexities of operating our ports these days. Very clearly, if you haven’t visited, you should because I think you’d want to see the man-made islands within that port and see the tremendous security that’s involved. It does need a new railroad, however. And, that’s another one of our Committee’s issues, dealing with railroads. We hope to help them secure additional railroad capacity to assist the Port of Los Angeles.
I think this industry of yours is the best part of the maritime industry in the world. We can keep that going if we maintain the relationship between labor and management that I’ve known in this association since I first appeared before the Propeller Club. I thank you all for being here today.