As coal-fired power plants in West Michigan harbor towns along Lake Michigan get decommissioned, cities like Holland and Muskegon have worried they’ll lose out on federal dredging support, the allocation of which is based on meeting a tonnage threshold for commercial freight at each harbor. That’s why Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga from Michigan’s Second Congressional District was happy to get funds to continue dredging as part of the most recent federal funding initiative.
What’s top of mind as you head into 2017?
Well, some of it is a continuation from 2016. Some of the stuff we’ve worked on in the past and are continuing to work on for this coming year has to do with water infrastructure, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Great Lakes Navigation System. Just at the end of our Continuing Resolution into April, we had some funding descriptors — basically definitions of what can be funded — that’s going to be beneficial to the Great Lakes.
It’s basically designating money that hasn’t been specifically for the Great Lakes in the past into more of a Great Lakes-focused percentage.
What will that funding be used for in the region?
Dredging. All of our harbors, commercial harbors and those like Holland, with the shutting down of the coal-fired power plant, may fall below the threshold. (It’s) the exact same thing in Muskegon. That’s part of our ‘blue water’ pitch: How does West Michigan become a gateway into the blue water economy? We’re working on that and I’ve done that in a bipartisan manner. That’s an extremely important thing for us.
How much federal funding can the region expect to receive?
There’s a sliding scale formula … but the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund had been a formula based on a usage and tonnage requirement. It’s a tax paid on a per-ton basis per ship. Basically, none of that was geared toward the Great Lakes. Candice Miller and I first had to get the Great Lakes recognized as one waterway. They didn’t recognize it as one waterway, even though they did the Mississippi River. The (federal government) didn’t acknowledge the interconnectedness of the (Great Lakes).
Will that money be permanent?
So it’s a new fight every year. Someone is saying, ‘Hey, we need this money over here.’ If we’re not diligent about it, it goes away. … Within that pot of money, we’ve had a fight about how much should be geared toward the Great Lakes. That’s another victory that happened in this last continuing resolution. We got acknowledgment that there will be a certain percentage geared for that.
What else are you looking to work on?
I do have a specific piece of legislation that would require executive branch agencies to talk to each other about proposed regulations. That really stemmed from the work we did with Structural Concepts in Muskegon. (The company doing open-air refrigeration for Starbucks that was getting conflicting requirements from Department of Energy and the EPA). If you went through the EPA requirement, the DOE would say you’re out of compliance and shut you down and (vice versa).
How will your proposed legislation help to fight this?
It’s that predictability. It’s about the regulatory regime and the predictability of what’s going on. That’s something very specific we’re working on, and we’ll be introducing it in the new Congress.
Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. Courtesy photo