Council needs to be a check on new Congress

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As the lame-duck session of the 113th Congress that has raised accomplishing nothing to a high art gets under way, the Advisory Council of Marine Associations will tackle a wide-ranging agenda at its annual meeting this weekend in Orlando.

The council is made up of representatives from the industry’s national and local marine trade associations. They advise the Marine Retailers Association of the America’s board on legislative actions and priorities. Since this Congress has mirrored the law firm of Dilly, Dally and Delay and has been less effective than a North Korean parliament, it’s not likely we’ll see any of our issues addressed. But, looking ahead to the new Congress in January, hope springs eternal. Here are some of our issues:

• Reauthorization for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. It’s a part of the Highway Trust Fund that will run out of money by next May. Bluntly, reauthorization is worth more than $600 million to boating and fishing. The problem is funding the highway bill from the current 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax on gas and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon tax on diesel, last raised in 1993. Not enough money for the highway system many claim, so raise the taxes. But Republicans are generally opposed to tax increases. Moreover, according to the MRAA’s Larry Innis, some members are reportedly opposed to government funding recreation and could push to use the Sport Fish funds for highways projects. Expect to be active in protecting our interests in this one next spring.

Meanwhile, NMMA government relations manager Michael Lewan has identified five top priorities for the new Congress. They include:

• Reform the ethanol mandate and stop the sale of dangerous E15 fuel. But the truth is even with the Republican majority, this will be a war. While there are many logical reasons for repealing the ethanol mandate in the nation’s Renewable Fuels Standard, newly elected Republicans come from many corn-growing states. Need I say more?

• Preserve boating access in America’s national parks and on federally-managed waters. For example, we need to stop the development of large no-fish zones in Florida’s Biscayne National Park and stop the misuse of marine protected areas as an unjustifiable management tool pushed by anti-boating and fishing interests.

• Modernize and improve waterways with new recreational dredging projects to meet current and future needs. Recognition in federal legislation of the impact and importance of the nation’s boating opens the door for badly needed dredging and maintenance. But we’ll have to be engaged in the pursuit and allocation of funds.

• Promote and protect recreational angling so that boaters can fish responsibly, but free of needless restrictions. Included in such action should be passage of the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which strengthens fish habitat restoration and conservation. For example, advocate protecting the Bristol Bay, Alaska, trout and salmon fishery from the threat of mine development. And continue to push for fair and balanced policies, based on sound science, regarding fish allocations between recreational and commercial interests.

• Improve boating access infrastructure to meet future needs so all boaters will have safe access to the waterways. While this is primarily undertaken at the state level, federal funds, such as from the Sportfish Trust Fund, are channeled to states with requirements that a portion of the funds be used to construct access.

While the last days of the current Congress are likely to show fewer signs of life than a stone carving, no one knows if the 114th Congress will earn its pay of $174,000 for the approximately 113 days per year it will usually be in session. But the marine council members are expected to send the MRAA board a healthy list of priorities this weekend.

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