House Passes Coast Guard Reauthorization
On April 1, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (H.R. 4005), which was introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA). This bill would authorize $17.5 billion in FY 2015-2016 to fund coast guard personnel costs and enforcement activities, including $25 million per year to fund the Federal Maritime Commission. Although House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) criticized House leadership for not referring the bill to his committee for consideration, the bill passed the House easily. The Senate has not introduced companion legislation, but it is expected to take up and pass the House bill before the end of the year.
Congress Debates Oil Spill First Responder Training
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) head Cynthia Quarterman is urging Congress – especially the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development – to increase funding for training programs for hazardous materials emergency first responders. She and the International Association of Fire Fighters union argue that training for local first responders has not kept pace with the increase in hazardous materials shipments and crude oil shipments. In particular, they point to a number of explosive train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since 2013, largely due to increased crude oil production in North Dakota. However, PHMSA is unlikely to see additional first responder training funds before the end of 2014, even if the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee moves a new surface transportation bill.
House Homeland Security Advances CFATS Bill
On April 3, the House Homeland Security Committee passed by unanimous voice vote and reported out of committee Rep. James Meehan’s (R-PA) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R. 4007). This bill would provide multi-year funding for DHS’s chemical facility security program. Previous iterations debated by the House Homeland Security Committee were met with resistance by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the issue. However, Rep. Meehan’s bill was developed in conjunction with the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which greatly increases the likelihood that it will reach the House floor.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, April 8: The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security will hold a hearing titled “Authorizing Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
- Tuesday, April 8: The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to consider pending nominations, including Vice Adm. Paul Zukunft to be Commandant of the Coast Guard.
- Wednesday, April 9: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.”
Executive Branch Activity
DHS Notes Increase in Unaccompanied Minors Crossing Border
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced that a number of factors are fueling a steep increase in unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the southern U.S. border with Mexico. He pointed to economic incentives in America and violence in Central American countries, including gang-related activity, as major factors, but also believes that certain U.S. policies are fueling the spike as well. However, Commissioner Kerlikowske also stated that the Obama administration’s deferred prosecution and family reunification policies encourage minors to attempt the border crossing to return to their families in the U.S. He stated that 6,000 unaccompanied immigrant children entered the U.S. in FY 2011, but that number will increase to an estimated 60,000 by the end of FY 2014. If this trend continues, CBP will face a shortage of beds and additional delays at U.S. ports of entry.