Cummings: Coast Guard Must Act with a Sense of Urgency

Washington, D.C.— Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, released the following statement in response to the Subcommittee’s hearing this morning examining the circumstances surrounding the collision of a tanker and a barge that resulted in the release of nearly 300,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River over the summer:

“There is clearly a significant deficit in the regulation of the towing industry, the scope of which became alarmingly evident this morning.

“It is unfathomable to me that within two weeks, the same company would be involved in two marine casualties while illegally operating towing vessels—one of which resulted in the release of nearly 300,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River, shutting down a portion of this vital artery of commerce for nearly a week. Worse yet, this is not the first instance in which this company has been caught operating towing vessels with improperly licensed personnel. It is simply unacceptable that a company with such a history would be allowed to continue its illegal—and, frankly, unsafe—practices.

“In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard was ordered by law to create a rule that would require the inspection of towing vessels. Additionally, it was authorized to set limits on the number of hours that crewmembers work each day. Neither set of rules has been issued. And, here we are, four years later, discussing a catastrophic incident that may very well have been prevented had the Coast Guard taken action.

“One of the most important elements of effective leadership is possessing a sense of urgency and effectively acting on that urgency. Failure to do so inevitably leads to problems such as the one we see today—the release of a harmful pollutant into our environment, wreaking havoc on marine life as well as on the industries that depend on commerce along the Mississippi River.

“The lack of resources and personnel for the Coast Guard to fulfill its increased responsibilities is an issue that our Subcommittee examines regularly. I am completely committed to ensuring that the Coast Guard has all of the resources necessary to effectively and efficiently perform all of its duties. However, increased resources are only as useful as their implementation, and I remain concerned that there is a lack of motivation within the Coast Guard to complete its backlog of rulemakings—including those related to the towing industry.

“I told the Coast Guard today that it must give the Congress specific details of what is needed to address issues such as the backlog of rulemaking and enforcement of rules. While I assured the Service that my colleagues on the Subcommittee and I will work to provide those resources, I emphasized that these resources must be met with the motivation that is necessary to get things done. Rear Admiral Watson assured us this morning that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for towing inspections would be issued in the Spring of 2009, and we will strictly hold them to that commitment.”

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