News & Updates: Port Bureau News: July 2020

July 2020 Commerce Club Featuring Congresswoman Elizabeth Fletcher

Thursday, July 23, 2020  
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Fletcher Optimistic Houston Ship Channel Projects Will Benefit from WRDA 2020

Congresswoman Elizabeth Fletcher (TX-07) expressed a positive outlook for the benefits the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) would bring to the Houston port region at the Port Bureau’s first Virtual Commerce Club on July 9, 2020. Hosted via Zoom, the Virtual Commerce Club featured a 20 minute talk by the congresswoman and a 20 minute question and answer session.

Houston, Fletcher believes, will play a vital role in the national and global economic recovery from the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Ports are our connection to the world,” said Fletcher. In her role on the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee, Fletcher has diligently worked to secure funding for the widening of the Houston Ship Channel (Project 11) in the finalizing of WRDA. Authorization of the HSC expansion, including federal assumption for its operational and maintenance dredging costs, is a “top priority” in the legislation. “I have been expressing the value of the port to the nation in Congress,” Fletcher said, stressing its importance and her optimism that the projects will be authorized.

Fletcher has also taken important action for energy producers this year. “I don’t have to tell anyone on this call that our energy producers are facing an unprecedented challenge that will have long-term consequences for our energy independence, our national security, and for our energy future.” She introduced bipartisan legislation in April to support the energy industry by providing $3 billion in funding to purchase crude oil produced in the U. S. for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (H.R. 6580). Fletcher is hopeful of getting the purchase into COVID legislation – but further out in the year than the WRDA legislation.

She also led colleagues in a letter urging Chairman Neil Chatterjee to continue the work of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as usual for natural gas pipeline permitting and processing important projects during the pandemic. “We know that we are going to need them, and we know what critical drivers they are here and all along the Gulf coast. Pipelines,” Fletcher stated, “are critical to our ports, our energy infrastructure, and going to be critical to our energy future.”

The congresswoman co-sponsored the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance and Trust Fund Act (H.R. 2440) to make sure the funds collected for ports are used for those ports. She worked with Chairman Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (D-OR), on this and it was included in the CARES Act this past spring. Fletcher encouraged attendees to continue interacting and working with their representatives for progress in the port region. “We do such a good job of partnering, and it’s such a good example for the country,” stressed Fletcher.

Fletcher responded to the following topics during the Q&A session:

What do you feel is the timeline for the HEROS package (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), particularly as concerns traditional energy projects? The bill passed the House but not the Senate. Our region stands to benefit tremendously, with additional stimulus funding for state and local governments and the pay of healthcare workers, first responders, and other vital workers. Will it get done? Fletcher believes there will be action, but the legislation will differ from the provisions in the original HEROS language, which is not unusual. She believes it is more likely to come later in the summer or fall.

What is the feeling in Washington about the current COVID-19 situation? In addition, what about FEMA and a hurricane response in COVID-19 conditions? In Washington, the goal has been to help citizens, to provide some security, and how to manage long-term. As part of this, FEMA plays critical role in communities, but it is beyond scope of FEMA to handle all the current emergencies that encompass 50 states as well as U.S. territories. Their current work has been on testing. For hurricane season: preparedness, ensuring basic communications, and planning for issues, such as safe measures for evacuations and shelters are ongoing.

Do you have any thoughts about the Dakota Pipeline decision? Fletcher had not had the opportunity to read it at the time of the Port Bureau’s event and felt she could not speak to specifics. She feels an important component to resolving issues is a good public education campaign that would help the public understand that natural gas is key to reducing emissions and to better understand the safety record of buried infrastructure. She believes pipelines are a place where our national conversation could be advanced.

To listen in to Congresswoman Fletcher’s comments to the Commerce Club, click here.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Enterprise Products Partners   Kinder Morgan •  Houston Pilots   Intercontinental Terminals Company  Moran Shipping Agencies, Inc.   Regions Bank  Targa Resources   West Gulf Maritime Association