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Power index: Top 10 pending bills affecting freight markets

Legislation aimed at easing transportation pain may have a chance of getting through Congress

Congress is taking on freight markets in 10 big ways. (Photo: Shutterstock & Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Freight supply chains have never been more at the front of the average consumer’s mind than the past two years, and House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been responding with proposals that affect all modes.

Whether they can make it to the president’s desk is the question. So far in the 117th Congress, only 3% of bills introduced — including those rolled into larger pieces of legislation — have been signed into law, and that percentage is unlikely to climb much higher, according to recent trends.

But given the close connections being made between goods movement, the economy and consumers’ wallets, these 10 bills may have a fighting chance.

Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021/2022

House: H.R. 4996/Senate: S. 3580

Co-sponsors: House bill: 96 (48 Democrats, 48 Republicans); Senate bill: 27 (13 Democrats/14 Republicans)

Status: House bill: Passed on Dec. 8, 2021. Senate bill: Introduced on Feb. 3, referred to committee.

Mode affected: Ocean shipping.

Summary: Both bills would shift the burden of proof for ensuring accurate and reasonable demurrage and detention charges from the party being billed — shippers, truckers and others — onto ocean carriers. Both bills are aimed at promoting U.S. exports, with the House bill implementing stronger provisions to help ensure export cargo is not unreasonably declined by carriers.

Why it matters: The legislation would expand the Federal Maritime Commission’s oversight of ocean carriers in the first major overhaul to the Shipping Act since 1998. It addresses complaints by U.S. exporters that their markets are being harmed by ocean carrier pricing and service decisions that favor the carriers’ import trades. Ocean carriers contend, however, that such government intrusion would disrupt, rather than improve, supply chains that work best when carriers are free to make pricing and operational decisions based on supply and demand. Washington insiders believe that, because the bills have strong bipartisan support in both chambers, the legislation has a reasonably good chance of passing. The House version of the bill secured another path to become law after John Garamendi, D-Calif., one of its original sponsors, secured it as an amendment to the America Competes Act (see below).

Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act

H.R. 2187

Co-sponsors: 28 (11 Democrats, 17 Republicans)

Status: Introduced March 29, 2021, referred to committee.

Mode affected: Trucking.

Summary: The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide parking on federal highways for commercial trucks.

Why it matters: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently outlined several provisions within the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law that could be used to provide funds expanding truck parking, but they all compete with other safety programs or infrastructure project proposals. This legislation, originally introduced by Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., would provide the first competitive grants — $755 million over five years — dedicated specifically for truck parking, a high-priority issue that has strong support from the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Both groups promoted the bill in a recent letter to Buttigieg.

Facilitating Relief for Efficient Intermodal Gateways to Handle Transportation (FREIGHT) Act

S. 3262

Co-sponsors: six Republicans.

Status: Introduced on Nov. 18, 2021, referred to committee.

Modes affected: Ocean shipping, intermodal rail and trucking.

Summary: Address ongoing freight challenges while putting in place policies to support the transportation network in the long term.

Why it matters: A flurry of Republican bills were introduced late last year ostensibly to address short-term supply chain disruptions, but most were seen as holiday-season protests against an alleged lack of action by the Biden administration to deal with freight bottlenecks. The FREIGHT Act attempts to move beyond the short term by including provisions that its sponsors believe can address more systemic problems, particularly at U.S. ports. Its main provision would establish a grant program for port authorities aimed at standardizing terms and documents used in port operations to improve the ability of marine terminals to notify shippers, railroads and truck drayage companies when cargo is available for transfer. 

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) Pilot Program Act

House: H.R. 6826/Senate S. 2322

Co-sponsors: House bill: three (one Democrat, two Republicans). Senate bill: five (three Democrats, two Republicans)

Status: The House bill passed out of the Homeland Security committee on March 2. The Senate bill passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

Modes affected: Ocean shipping, rail, trucking and airfreight.

Summary: Creates a pilot program for 10 DOT-licensed property brokers and 10 warehouse entities to be C-TPAT certified.

Why it matters: The C-TPAT program is a government-industry partnership created in the aftermath of 9/11 to expedite freight through the country and reduce disruptions of international supply chains while keeping the border secure. However, it excluded non-asset-based 3PLs from participating, which they contend puts them at a competitive disadvantage. These bills — which passed their respective committees with strong bipartisan support — would help 3PLs and freight brokers grow their businesses by putting them on more equal footing with asset-based competition.

Hydrogen for Ports Act of 2021

S. 3111

Co-sponsors: six (four Democrats, two Republicans) 

Status: Introduced on Oct. 28, 2021, referred to committee.

Mode affected: Ocean shipping.

Summary: Requires the secretary of Energy to establish a grant program to support hydrogen-fueled equipment at ports and to conduct a study with the secretary of Transportation and the secretary of Homeland Security on the feasibility and safety of using hydrogen-derived fuels, including ammonia, as a shipping fuel.

Why it matters: Global shipping is under pressure to decarbonize maritime transportation but has hit a wall with fossil-based fuels in trying to meet the international target of at least a 50% reduction (compared to 2008) in carbon emissions by 2050. The container shipping industry considers hydrogen and ammonia as potential ways to meet that goal while acknowledging that technical questions on safety, storage and distribution remain unanswered. This legislation would provide funding to help figure out the feasibility of transitioning the industry to such renewable energy sources.

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022

H.R. 6865

Co-sponsors: three (one Democrat, two Republicans) 

Status: Introduced on Feb. 28, amended and reported out of committee on March 3.

Mode affected: Ocean shipping.

Summary: Authorizes appropriations for the Coast Guard and other purposes.

Why it matters: This Coast Guard bill, which authorizes $12 billion and $13 billion for the agency in FY22 and FY23, respectively, contains two key provisions affecting freight. It requires President Joe Biden’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to evaluate the economic and environmental effects of cargo backlogs at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as develop a plan to “significantly reduce or eliminate the backlogs and reduce nationwide cargo processing delays.” In addition, an amendment to the bill bans all Russian vessels from the territorial waters of the U.S., a provision added in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Ocean Shipping Antitrust Enforcement Act

H.R. 6864

Co-sponsors: eight (six Democrats, two Republicans)

Status: Introduced March 1, referred to two committees.

Mode affected: Ocean shipping.

Summary: A bill to amend Title 46, United States Code, to repeal certain antitrust exemptions for ocean common carriers.

Why it matters: This two-page bill is short but packs a punch: If signed into law, it would deal a significant blow to the major ocean carrier alliances that rely on a certain amount of antitrust immunity — immunity not available in other industry sectors — to plan and deploy shared vessel capacity and to discuss pricing to respond to changes in supply and demand. The legislation, which would make foreign container ship operators accountable to federal antitrust laws, has strong backing from the Biden administration.

America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES Act of 2022)

H.R. 4521

Co-sponsors: 101 (100 Democrats, one Republican)

Status: Passed the House on Feb. 4.

Mode affected: Rail.

Summary: Legislation aimed at tackling supply chain vulnerabilities with the goal of making more goods in the U.S.

Why it matters: In addition to providing another avenue for passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (see above), this 3,600-page bill devoted to supply chain and manufacturing resiliency also includes a key rail provision: the creation of a Freight Rail Innovation Institute. The institute would be used for designing, manufacturing and operating zero-emission battery and hydrogen-powered freight locomotives and to develop technologies that enhance freight rail safety, efficiency and utilization.

Supporting Trucking Efficiency and Emission Reductions (STEER) Act

H.R. 4810

Co-sponsors: seven (one Democrat, six Republicans)

Status: Introduced on July 29, 2021, and referred to committee.

Mode affected: Trucking.

Summary: Establishes a voucher program for purchasing and installing fuel-efficient and emission-reducing technologies for Class 8 trucks.

Why it matters: The legislation would help private companies and individual truckers cover expenses for more fuel-efficient trucks — which also cut pollution as the industry moves toward zero emissions — through a voucher program that provides up to $4,000 per truck toward the cost of purchases and installation, depending on the number of units in the fleet. The vouchers would be available for companies installing technology on new trucks as well as for small trucking and owner-operators retrofitting used trucks. With diesel prices on the rise amid geopolitical uncertainty, this may be seen as providing welcome relief.

Port Crane Security and Inspection Act of 2022 and Port Cranes for America Act

H.R. 6487/H.R. 6488

Co-sponsors: Zero.

Status: Introduced on Jan. 25, referred to committee.

Mode affected: Ocean shipping.

Summary: Partner bills targeting cranes manufactured in China.

Why it matters: These bills would ban the purchase of container gantry cranes built in countries deemed foreign adversaries of the U.S. and require software retrofits of such cranes already operating in the U.S. for security purposes. They also establish a grant program presumably to defray the costs related to the ban and retrofits. China’s ZPMC, one of the world’s largest suppliers of ship-to-shore cranes, is the main target of the bills. While the legislation was introduced by Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., with little fanfare and without securing co-sponsors, it could gain attention as China’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict evolves and the U.S. considers more sanctions on Russia and its allies. 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.