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The new Congress and what it means for boating

By Jonathan Sweet

With the 114th Congress taking office this month, it’s time for issues new and old to take center stage again.

Boating Industry talked to Nicole Vasilaros, director of regulatory and legal affairs at the National Marine Manufacturers Association, about some of the key legislative issues facing the marine industry and what we can expect from the new Republican Congress.

We have a Republican Congress now, so what does that mean for the industry? What does that change and what doesn’t change?

There’s definitely been a shift to the Republicans, which tends to be great for pro-business industry members like so many of ours. There’s definitely a window with any new Congress, a new opportunity to take up legislation that failed in the old Congress, and give it all a fresh start, if you will.

So we’re looking toward capitalizing on that momentum of a fresh start, a new Congress. There are a couple bills that we’ve been working on for several years now, hoping that there will be momentum and a better chance of them getting through with the Republican majority.

What are some of those areas NMMA is hoping we’ll see some action on?

The first one is a transportation bill. There was definitely a lot of momentum and hope to get something done in the 113th Congress, but we just got a reauthorization through May. We’ve already heard a lot of talk from Chairman [James Inhofe, R-Okla.] on the Senate side, and I know Chairman [Bill Shuster, R-Pa.] on the House side has been wanting to do a long-term reauthorization. From what we’re hearing it is the No. 1 priority for both chairmen and those committees.

For the boating industry, it’s really important because it includes the funds for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.

Ethanol is a perennial issue for us, especially because at the very end of 2014, EPA further kicked the can down the road on the [Renewable Volume Obligations] and the ethanol issue. (Editor’s note: See related story here) There’s definitely renewed momentum and hope to get some type of reform with the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Any indication that the EPA will be addressing the issue soon?

What they have announced they are going to do is do a joint 2014 and 2015 RVO. They still haven’t done last year. Definitely, the political landscape made it a sensitive issue and while we disagree with them kicking it down the road, that’s why we think they did it.

It just confirms the focus that Congress has to fix it. The EPA might do something, but it doesn’t get us the long-term fix we’re hoping for.

How about on the Magnuson-Stevens front?

We lost a great advocate in Sen. Mark Begich [D, Alaska], who has been staunchly advocating for a reauthorization. We still have Sen. Marco Rubio [R, Fla.] who is very engaged on this issue and we’re hoping to reignite those efforts. It remains to be seen what we’re going to be able to do on an MSA reauthorization, but the community of fishing and boating is working together to try to get some legislative language out there.

There’s definitely hope. They all say that first 100 days, that’s the window of excitement, of energy, and I would say that between Sportfish, ethanol and MSA, those are our top three issues to look for.

What do you think is the likelihood we’ll some positive action on any of these issues?

I definitely think we’re going to get a transportation bill. There is a lot of momentum to get something through. That will be key to keeping the stream of funding for the Sportfish Restoration Fund that is so critical to our states.

You never guarantee something here in D.C., but there is a very good chance of a transportation bill getting done before May.

We will see some ethanol bills in the next month or so, particularly on the House side. It remains to be seen what we can do on the Senate side in terms of getting some advocates. We just need to see what the vehicle is, and move from there on ethanol.

As for Magnuson, it’s just a very complicated issue. There’s no easy solution. I wouldn’t expect to get anything finalized in the next 100 days, but we’re looking to get the bills we care about introduced and get the conversation going.

Any other issues people in the industry should be watching?

There are a lot of new freshman members of Congress that we’re definitely looking toward … trying to find new advocates that are favoring the recreational boating industry. We have a new co-chair of the Congressional Boating Caucus, Rep. Patrick Murphy from Florida, so that’s a really exciting thing to have some new blood in the caucus and somebody from Florida, which is so important for our industry. He’ll be joining Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, who’s been a great advocate of ours for several years.

Trade continues to be a really important issue for this industry and it seems like there is going to be some progress on trade agreements.

What’s the best way for our readers to make sure they are heard on these issues?

It’s almost too simple – contact your member of Congress. We’re also encouraging people to sign up for BoatingUnited.com. That’s our grassroots tool for the whole industry. That enables your readers and boaters around the country to learn the issues and contact their representatives directly.

That allows them to self-identify with recreational boating issues. It allows us to have direct communication with them, and hopefully they can engage on these issues. We’ll continue to communicate through that medium on issues as they come up.

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