WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued the following remarks for the Congressional Record Wednesday on his vote against S. 140, The Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2018, to protect the Chesapeake Bay and keep passengers safe from harm. Senator Cardin is a strong supporter of the U.S. Coast Guard, its operations at Curtis Bay and the incredible work it does keeping Americans safe on the Chesapeake Bay and across the nation.
Senator Cardin: “I rise to express my opposition to S. 140, the Coast Guard reauthorization bill, because it prevents state regulation of the discharge of pollutants from vessels engaged in maritime commerce and because it exempts one certain vessel from current fire safety standards.
“First, the bill includes a provision, known as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which would dictate how ballast water from ships is regulated in the United States. While I appreciate the hard work of the Senate Committees on Commerce, Science & Transportation and Environment & Public Works and their commitment to bipartisan negotiation on this issue, I unfortunately cannot support a bill that includes the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, even as currently modified. The problem is that this provision preempts Maryland’s authority to set standards on the discharge of ballast water from ships that are more protective of the Chesapeake Bay than the standards set by the Federal Government.
“Ballast water can contain invasive species like blue catfish and zebra mussels, among a host of others, that threaten the delicate balance of life in the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is the Nation’s largest estuary. It generates $1 trillion in economic benefit to the watershed region. The shoreline of the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries stretches for over 2,000 miles. More than 100,000 streams and rivers and thousands of acres of wetlands provide the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. If we do not protect the health of this incredible network of waters, we cannot hope to restore the Chesapeake Bay to its former glory.
“Fortunately, the health of the Bay is improving. According to the latest report card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Bay earned a ‘C’ grade, signifying the first time that score is meaningfully trending in the right direction and that restoration efforts are beginning to have an enduring impact.
“Additionally, the effort to clean up and restore the Bay creates new job and economic growth opportunities around the Bay States. For example, the watermen that depend on healthy populations of blue crab, oysters, menhaden, and rockfish (or striped bass) depend on those species not being out-competed for food or eaten by invasive species. People throughout the watershed depend on the Bay for their livelihoods and for recreation.
“Though we in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are making great strides in improving the quality of the Chesapeake Bay, we still have a long way to go. The last thing the Bay and the people who depend on it need now is the additional stress of invasive species.
“Furthermore, this bill includes a provision that would exempt one vessel from current fire safety standards, another provision by which I cannot abide.
“A series of fires aboard international passenger ships in the early 1960s prompted the U.S. to enact the Safety of Life at Sea Act (SOLAS) which mandated that ‘no passenger vessel of the United States shall be granted a certificate of inspection […] unless the vessel is constructed of fire-retardant materials.’ Despite the enactment of the SOLAS standards and the opposition of the U.S. Coast Guard, Congress has repeatedly exempted one ship – the Delta Queen – from the SOLAS fire safety standards.
“Current law requires passenger vessels with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers to be constructed of fire-retardant materials – unless an exemption is made. But in the case of the Delta Queen, the U.S. Coast Guard has consistently opposed legislation to provide the Delta Queen an exemption to remain in service as an overnight passenger cruise vessel.
“A Coast Guard Special Inspection Report on the Delta Queen in 2008 found ‘an unnecessary and unacceptable accumulation of combustible fire load.’ And in a January 8, 2016 letter to Senator Bill Nelson, the Coast Guard’s then Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs wrote ‘the Department of Homeland Security is resigned to oppose continuously any legislation that would provide any form of statutory relief for the steamer Delta Queen.’
“Section 834 of this bill is contrary to public safety. It is contrary to the Safety of Life at Sea Act regulations which have been in full force in the U.S. since 1966 and it is contrary to the guidance of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“The Delta Queen is an old ship made of wood. The boilers are original and open to the wood superstructure. There are no structural boundaries to contain a fire and only one means of egress.
“I understand that supporters of this provision are concerned about the historic preservation of this ship and the economic opportunities that operation of the ship could bring to its homeport. But we should be concerned first and foremost with the safety of the people who will work on the ship and vacation on the ship. And they can have the same opportunities and experiences on a ship that is compliant with the reasonable safety standards that have been in place in this country for more than 50 years.”