The U.S. domestic maritime industry lost one of its biggest supporters with the death of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), an attorney who worked closely with him told FreightWaves.
Cummings died Oct. 17 of “long-standing health problems,” according to press reports. He was 68.
A native of Baltimore, Cummings most recently served as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was also a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), serving on both the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
But Cummings is remembered best by those in the transportation sector for his staunch support of U.S. flag shipping and the Jones Act after he became chairman of the Coast Guard subcommittee in 2007.
“It’s a real loss for the industry,” commented Darrell Conner, government affairs counselor at the law firm K&L Gates, which represents USA Maritime, a lobbying group for U.S. domestic shipping. “Baltimore is a maritime city, and he knew maritime, but he really became deeply involved after he took over as chairman of the subcommittee, and his affinity for the industry grew out of that. He took the time to really know the issues and felt very strongly that [the U.S. maritime industry] was an important economic as well as national defense asset for this country.”
Cummings’ support for the U.S. domestic maritime industry was not always shared in Congress, however, which prompted him to scold his colleagues for not doing enough to reverse the decline in the U.S.-flag ocean fleet. Cummings partially blamed the decline on failed funding for cargo preference initiatives designed to help subsidize government cargo. He introduced legislation in 2012 to reduce the decline in subsidies for U.S.-flag vessel shipments of food aid overseas.
Defending the Jones Act, a requirement that domestic shipments between U.S. ports be moved on U.S.-flagged vessels on U.S.-built ships and American crews, was also a priority for the Congressman.
While the law has both its supporters and detractors, “whenever there was misinformation put out there about the Jones Act, he was the first to speak out publicly and say, ‘No, you have it wrong, and here are the facts,’” Conner said. “He will be missed.”