American Boating Congress a success

WASHINGTON – Diving into such topics as biofuels, ballast water and the state tax nexus headlining the boating-related federal and state public policy and regulatory issues being discussed, the American Boating Congress kicked off here Sunday night before moving into full-swing yesterday.

The event, which continues to grow, attracted 276 registered participants, $1,500 from 27 sponsoring companies, and about $60,000 was raised for the Political Action Committee. Total attendees rose by nearly 20, while the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Political Action Committee contributions exceeded the association’s goal by $10,000.

By all accounts, the event was an enormous success, according to Monita Fontaine, vice president and senior counsel, government relations.

“Each year, it gets better,” she says. “You have a core of people that love politics and the industry. You can count on these people coming to Washington and being the voice of the constituents. You’re never going to have a huge event because that’s not the nature of this event. It’s a niche, boutique event for the people who want to give of their time and walk the halls of Congress for the entire industry.

“People like to fly into Washington and talk about what their company means in their state. But this event takes people outside of themselves and makes them look at the boating industry as a whole.”

Industry executives from around the country joined forces here to learn about the legislative issues at the forefront of the marine industry’s concerns, to hear from government officials regarding their stance on the issues, and to go to Capitol Hill to speak to their elected officials.

The government officials on hand came from an array of departments and positions. Sam Rauch, deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration kicked off the presentations with an overview of the health of our fisheries, particularly those between 3 and 200 miles offshore. Stephen Johnson, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, presented updates on two pressing issues the industry is facing: the Recreational Boating Act of 2007, which is set to be introduced this week; and two air quality regulations recently introduced to lower the levels of gasoline- and diesel-powered marine engine emissions. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tenn.); Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) also addressed the attendees. Additionally, Dr. Ed Mahoney of Michigan State University and the Recreational Marine Research Center presented an overview of the detailed research his staff is planning for quantifying water access.

The agenda for the three-day event focused in on three hot topics: biofuels and the marine industry, ballast water discharge permitting, and the state tax nexus.

The Recreational Boating Act of 2007, which is set to be introduced this week, looks to take an EPA exemption and put it into law. For the last 34 years, the EPA has provided an exemption to the Clean Water Act that permits recreational boats to discharge water normal to their operation without having a permit. A judge in San Francisco ruled last fall that the EPA did not have the jurisdiction to make such an exemption and revoked it. The bill to be introduced will take the original wording of the exemption and add the word “recreational” before vessels in an effort to put this back in place. Without this exemption, more than 13 million recreational boats will need to be permitted to discharge water through such means as livewells and other bilges among other things.

There is also a vast array of energy bills before Congress. Most of the language of these bills focuses on an increase of the use of ethanol as an energy source. Currently, the marine industry and its engines cannot handle higher levels of ethanol (up to E-10 can be used) because it can gum up fuel tanks, fuel lines, gaskets and normal engine operation. As Fontaine puts it, “we cannot just get dizzy thinking that ethanol is the be-all, end-all. Ethanol is fine. It’s one component to a complex package.” So the industry has fought successfully to get an amendment to an energy bill that requires a study into the use of ethanol and its effects.

“These are both vital,” Fontaine says. If we don’t get the legislation that fixes the EPA problem, we’re in trouble. And if we get legislation that’s passed – and there is a bill in Minnesota that would require E-20 – if we don’t educate congress about the repercussions of going higher than E-10, we’re going to have a miserable industry.”

The third issue involves the Business Activity Simplification Act, which is trying to prevent states from taxing businesses that aren’t doing business in that state. Currently, Fontaine says, states are seizing product that goes through their state en route for delivery in another state, saying the businesses owe the state a tax because they are engaging in economic activity there. The marine industry I fighting for this act to only tax those businesses that have brick-and-mortar locations in the state.

Breakout sessions on Monday gave attendees an opportunity to learn about these issues more in-depth.

Today, industry members prepare for a trip to Capitol Hill where they will address members of Congress on these topics. And Fontaine is pleased with the way this event has unfolded leading up to today’s important lobbying efforts.

“I think the success of this event is the leave behind,” Fontaine says. “The number of staffers and members of Congress that are touched by the real stories of their constituents and by the messages that go up to Capitol Hill. I can go up there every day, but when you have a manufacturer fly into Washington who has contributed to an elected official’s campaign, who has his employees voting, who’s sending e-mails on issues, and they walk in and they say, “hometown,” and that translates … it’s immeasurable.

“And not all these industries do this. We’re really moving into a place where our footprint is much stronger than other industries. We do have a healthy PAC. We do have a good fly-in where we get the CEOs of these companies volunteering their time. A lot of other industries don’t have it together.”

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