Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Invest in Nation’s Ports and Harbors
Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (OR-04), introduced H.R. 2440, the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, which would unlock billions in already-collected fees to maintain our nation’s federal ports and harbors.
Currently, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (Trust Fund) collects more revenue from shippers than Congress has appropriated to the U.S. Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers to maintain our harbors. Approximately $9.3 billion in already collected revenue sits idle in the U.S. Treasury, not being used for its intended purpose of investing in our nation’s ports and harbors. At the same time, some ports and harbors of all sizes struggle to remain competitive in the global shipment of goods and services or remain open to meet the needs of the communities that depend on a vibrant maritime and commercial fishing industry. While shippers continue to pay into the Trust Fund for congressionally-approved maintenance activities, the federal government has not carried out many of them.
This bipartisan bill makes it easier for Congress to appropriate any funds collected in the Trust Fund for authorized harbor maintenance needs, including the existing $9.3 billion balance in the Trust Fund. The legislation enables the expenditure of approximately $34 billion over the next decade, which will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to dredge all federal harbors to their constructed widths and depths.
“As someone who represents a coastal district, I’ve heard from countless fishermen, ship, tug and barge operators about the critical need for safe and well-maintained ports and harbors that allow them to do their jobs and keep our economy moving. And I agree,” said Chairman DeFazio. “The federal government should be using the fees it collects at our ports for their intended purpose -- harbor maintenance. By merely spending what is already being collected we can ensure our nation’s ports and harbors remain open for business and can continue to sustain our local, regional, and national economies.
“Ultimately it is taxpayers and consumers who pay the cost of the HMT, as a pass through on the price of goods shipped through ports,” continued DeFazio. “However, when harbors are inefficiently dredged and maintained it leads to delays and increased prices. So, taxpayers are paying for a service that is not being done, and as a result, have to pay MORE for the goods they buy because of the lack of maintenance. It’s time Congress fully funds the operation and maintenance of our commercial harbors, including critical jetty and breakwater work. I urge my colleagues to support this critical, bipartisan legislation.”
“The Ports in our region truly are the economic drivers for our economy, and fully spending the HMTF will help ensure the continued prosperity of all parts of the Northwest. Rep. DeFazio’s bill will help provide the additional dollars needed to fund the dredging and jetty work leading to our Northwest ports,” said Kristin Meira, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA). “This means that cargo will continue to move efficiently in and out of our trade gateways, and that our coastal communities will have safe access to the open ocean for commercial and recreational fishing. “
DeFazio has consistently been a champion for increased funding for Oregon’s harbors throughout his time in Congress. In 2019, he secured dredging funding for Oregon’s ports, including the following:
- Port of Bandon: $26,000
- Port of Brookings Harbor: $785,000
- Port of Coos Bay: $6,958,000
- Port of Gold Beach: $5,000
- Port of Port Orford: $5,000
- Port of Reedsport: $939,000
- Port of Siuslaw: $10,000
To learn more about the legislation, click here.
Click here to hear directly from an Oregon fisherman on why this bipartisan legislation is critical.
In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for commercial ports from maritime shippers. The HMT is directly levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or inland ports as a 0.125 percent ad valorem tax on the value of imported cargo (e.g., $1.25 per $1,000 value) and is typically passed along to U.S. taxpayers on the purchase of imported goods or services. These revenues are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund within the U.S. Treasury from which Congress currently appropriates funds to the Corps for harbor maintenance dredging.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Trust Fund will collect an additional $24.5 billion in new revenues (including interest) over the next decade—on top of the estimated $9.3 billion in previously collected but unspent revenues. Yet, according to CBO, federal appropriations from the Trust Fund are only estimated to total $19.4 billion over the same decade, resulting in the Trust Fund balance reaching $14.4 billion in fiscal year 2029.
H.R. 2396, the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act bill text can be found here.
 The Harbor Maintenance Tax initially applied to both imported and exported goods; however, in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that imposition of the tax on exported goods was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.