Industry making progress on key issues
As we head into the spring legislative session with a new Congress, the boating industry’s key issues are getting some attention once again.
From ethanol to Magnuson-Stevens to the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, there’s progress, albeit slow. Here’s an update on some of those key industry issues:
Over the last several years ethanol has gone from being off the radar for many elected officials to a central issue. Due in large part to the efforts of the boating industry and its partners, those in Washington are much more aware of the challenges that 15-percent ethanol blends (E15) present to the industry.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and BoatUS have partnered with other groups representing a wide variety of industries including poultry and dairy farmers, recreational vehicles, snowmobiles, outdoor power equipment and more to work on the ethanol issue.
Although the use E15 is prohibited in marine engines, there are significant concerns about misfueling if boaters fill their boats up at roadside stations. In a 2013 BoatUS survey, 63 percent of its members said they did just that, so the concern appears to be a valid one.
Ethanol levels are set by the Renewable Fuel Standard, which was signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act. The act called for annually escalating levels of ethanol – levels that have been called unattainable by ethanol opponents, but necessary by proponents.
So far this year, three different bills have been introduced in Congress to address ethanol and/or the RFS. All three are updated versions of bills introduced in the previous Congress.
In February, the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015 (S. 577) was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is also a co-sponsor. The bill is similar to one introduced at the end of 2013 by Feinstein and then-Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“A significant amount of U.S. corn is currently used for fuel. If the mandate continues to expand toward full implementation, the price of corn will increase. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that would mean as much as $3.5 billion each year in increased food costs. Americans living on the margins simply can’t afford that,” Sen. Feinstein said. “Our infrastructure has a ceiling for the amount of corn ethanol that can be used, and we’re rapidly approaching it. Companies are physically unable to blend more corn ethanol into gasoline without causing problems for many gas stations and older automobiles.”
With approximately 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop used to make ethanol fuel, the senators and others have expressed concern about the mandate’s impact on food prices.
“The RFS requires fuel suppliers to blend millions of gallons of biofuels — most often corn ethanol — into the nation’s gasoline supplies. It drives up gas prices, increases food costs, damages car engines and is harmful to the environment,” said Sen. Toomey.
Earlier that month, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced the RFS Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 704). The bill would eliminate requirements for corn-based ethanol blending and cap blending levels for other biofuels. It is a modified version of a bill Goodlatte introduced in the previous Congress.
“The federal government’s ethanol mandate has triggered a domino effect that is hurting American consumers, energy users, livestock producers, food manufacturers and retailers,” Goodlatte said. “Plus, the EPA’s continued failure to meet their deadlines to set renewable fuels requirements for both this year and last year only create more uncertainty for those who must comply with this mandate. It’s clear that the majorly flawed RFS just isn’t working.”
The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 45 cosponsors from both parties and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Several industry associations are urging their members to support both bills.
“The RFS Reform Act acknowledges the reality of America’s declining fuel consumption, allows for the investment in other more compatible biofuels, and erases the twisted math that forces more ethanol onto a marketplace that neither demands it, nor can physically absorb it at safe levels,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Program Manager Nicole Palya Wood.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., also brought back his bill (H.R. 796) to eliminate ethanol requirements, but the bill has no cosponsors. It was also referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power in February.
Through BoatingUnited.com, NMMA has prepared emails you can use to send your opinions on the bills to your representatives.
There are also technological advances on the alternative fuel front. NMMA, the American Boat & Yacht Council and several manufacturers have been testing the use of other fuels for use in marine engines. The results of the study suggest that biobutanol blends up to 16.1 percent can be used in marine engines and boats without deterioration of engine or boat performance. The researchers found no engine durability or exhaust emission failures throughout the test program.
While wide availability of biobutanol is probably not on the immediate horizon, it offers potential for renewable alternatives to ethanol.
In fact, Evinrude offered test rides on a 25 Bay Boat by Crevalle Boats powered by an Evinrude E-TEC G2 300HP engine during the Miami International Boat Show, generating plenty of buzz at the show.
(We’ll be taking a deeper look at these alternatives in the June issue of Boating Industry.)
The Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which regulates saltwater fisheries, was last reauthorized in 2006. For the last several years, reauthorization bills have been introduced in Congress, only to fail to achieve passage.
During that time, the boating industry has been promoting the need for the recreational fishing industry to be addressed in the reauthorization.
While a complicated issue, it is one where the industry has made some headway, at least on the regulatory front if not on the legislative side.
At this year’s Miami International Boat Show, representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it was creating a policy to incorporate the concerns of the nation’s 11 million recreational saltwater anglers into its planning process. This was a victory for recreational fishing, which for years has taken a backseat to commercial fishing interests in planning.
“With this policy in place, the stage is set for NOAA and the recreational fishing community to work more closely than ever before to address the priorities of anglers while working to ensure these resources are sustainable for the enjoyment of future generations,” NOAA fisheries administrator Eileen Sobeck said in announcing the policy.
The policy lays out six principles that will guide NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service’s “decision-making and activities in the execution of its stewardship responsibilities.”
1. Support ecosystem conservation and enhancement – the NMFS will work to restore, maintain and conserve habitats and rely on science-based activities that support recreational fishing
2. Promote public access to quality recreational fishing opportunities – NMFS recognizes the “fundamental importance” of public access to recreational fishing
3. Coordinate with state and federal management entities – the agency will collaborate with other government agencies to align program goals and strategies
4. Advance innovative solutions to evolving science, management and environmental challenges – NMFS will lead and facilitate development of innovative approaches and solutions to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing fisheries environment
5. Provide scientifically sound and trusted social, cultural, economic and ecological information – the agency will provide “world class science” in partnership with the fishing, academic and management communities
6. Communicate and engage with the recreational fishing public – NMFS will work to build public confidence in the management process by communicating “in plain language” the reasons for regulatory actions and respond to recreational angler issues
This new policy was a direct result of industry input. At the 2014 Miami show, The Commission on Saltwater Fisheries Management, co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats’ Scott Deal, issued its report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”
That report, which identified the industry’s recommendations for saltwater fisheries has been endorsed by a number of other groups, including the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the American Sportfishing Association, NMMA and the Center for
The commission, made up of biologists, economists, conservationists, fisheries managers and policy makers, met with a variety of stakeholders to devise its report, and identified six key policies to achieve the commission’s vision. The recommendations primarily focus on Magnuson-Stevens.
The recommendations include:
1. Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing
2. Adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management
3. Allocating marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation
4. Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines
5. Codifying a process for cooperative management
6. Managing for the forage base
“Last year at this time was a turning point,” Sobeck said in Miami this year. The Morris-Deal report “was a pivotal report because it captured that this is a big community with a lot of interests and very specific requests of government.”
Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund
This is the issue that is most likely to see action as it is part of the larger issue of the transportation bill reauthorization. Established in its current incarnation by the Wallop-Breaux Act in 1984, the Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund receives funding, among other sources, through fuel taxes. The fund is a key source of money for many projects on the state and local level from fisheries conservation to public water access and other infrastructure programs.
Since its inception , the fund has helped pay for thousands of projects, and stock and protect billions of fish throughout the country.
A key part of this issue to watch is the preservation of the funding for the fund in any transportation bill, as the boating industry’s share has been a target in the past. The Wallop-Breaux Act must be reauthorized as part of the Federal Highway Trust Fund in order to capture the revenue from that part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motor boat and small engine use. The most recent short-term extension for the highway fund expires May 31.
President Obama proposed a $478 billion transportation plan in February that would keep the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund solvent for the next six years.
Other bills and changes have also been proposed by various members of Congress. Senate and House leadership also have spoken about the need for a longterm reauthorization rather than another extension, but no bills had been introduced at the time this issue went to press.
A new Washington voice for MRAA
William Higgins recently came on board as the public policy manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. Before joining MRAA, Higgins worked in both the U.S. House and Senate and most recently worked for a consulting firm on state and local issues.
Boating Industry talked to him about his role and some of his goals for MRAA.
What interested you in coming to work in the boating industry?
Higgins: I have some prior experience working on boating issues at my prior job, but I’ve really just been a lifetime boater. I grew up in Florida, so both lakes and the coast were both readily available. It’s an exciting opportunity to work in an industry I actually care about and have some real ties to.
What are some of the key issues you’re going to be working on?
We’re going to pursue anything we can do to push forward the [Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund] reauthorization as it pertains to positive impacts on the boating industry.
We’re going to support the favorable use of money from the Water Resources Reform & Development Act, specifically the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. In last year’s bill, they actually set aside 10 percent that was going to be allocated to small harbors. The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to decide how they’re going to implement that, so we want to be part of the conversation and put ourselves in a position to help dictate the conversation.
Magnuson Stevens is going to be a big deal. … And I think the aquatic invasive species issue is really going to come to the forefront this year. You’re going to see a lot of different people say quite a bit about it.
We want to support the reform to the [Renewable Fuel Standard] and we’re working with a number of other industries. We recently got behind the Toomey-Feinstein bill to reform the corn ethanol mandate.
There have been rumblings regarding the repeal of the LIFO (“last in first out”) inventory accounting method. Much like the ethanol issue, MRAA has joined onto a multi-industry coalition to oppose any efforts to repeal it.
What are your impressions of the industry so far?
Any time you get thrown into all these new issues, you get a little overwhelmed, but it’s all things I’m genuinely interested in. Everyone that I’ve met has been extremely helpful in the industry… the people we work with in the boating industry here in D.C., whether it be NMMA, the Sportfishing Association, BoatUS.
I am actually physically within NMMA’s office and it’s definitely been a positive experience being here. I think we can gain more from presenting a united front and we can really work together more effectively to accomplish our legislative goals.
Higgins can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 737-9779 x502.
American Boating Congress update
In response to feedback from past attendees, ABC 2015 will have a different feel, focusing on more interaction and issues briefings.
The industry’s annual legislative conference is scheduled for May 11-13 at the Renaissance Washington, Washington D.C. This year’s ABC is co-hosted by dozens of industry associations and companies, including Boating Industry.
While the final schedule wasn’t set as Boating Industry went to press, television journalist David Gregory has been named as this year’s keynote speaker. Gregory has worked for various NBC and MSNBC news programs and was the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press from 2008 to 2014. He was named one of Washington’s 50 most influential journalists by Washingtonian magazine. Gregory will speak the morning of May 13, followed by a lineup of legislative speakers. Other scheduled speakers include Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.; Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla.; Miami Mayor Tomas Regaldo; and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Thomas.
The schedule also is designed to allow attendees to move between issue workshops on a number of subjects, allowing them to pick the topics that are most important to them. Issues topics will include ethanol, Magnuson-Stevens, water access, invasive species and more.
Another important part of ABC is Hill visits, giving attendees a chance to meet face-to-face with elected officials and staff to discuss boating industry issues and how they impact local businesses and communities.
NMMA will handle scheduling Hill meetings for anyone interested in visits. To help prepare for visits, NMMA government relations staff will review general industry issues during a webinar a few weeks before the conference as well as during the conference. Briefing documents and talking points on these issues will also be available to you. NMMA staff are also available to assist with issues specific to a given business or state.