CBP Modifies First Offshore Wind Ruling

Jonathan K. Waldron, Matthew J. Thomas, Jeanne M. Grasso, and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Stakeholders in offshore wind construction projects, including vessel owners and operators, project developers, and equipment manufacturers, should ensure that their plans for offshore wind development take into consideration the implications of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (“CBP”) most recent Jones Act ruling. While a previous ruling issued by CBP in January 2021 changed course by ruling that “pristine sites” were subject to the Coastwise Merchandise Statute (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), CBP has modified this ruling generally in line with past precedent. Nonetheless, CBP’s modification creates some changes for Jones Act compliance in the offshore wind sector.

On January 27, 2021, CBP ignited controversy in its first Jones Act ruling on offshore wind since the passage of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). The NDAA, through an amendment to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”), clarified that the Jones Act applied to renewable energy projects on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), and stakeholders expected that the same cabotage rules which have applied to mineral energy development projects would equally apply to offshore wind. Nonetheless, in HQ H309186, CBP deviated from decades of precedent by ruling that the lading of “scour protection” materials by a non-coastwise qualified vessel at a U.S. coastwise point (i.e., a port or place in the United States), and unlading of these materials at a pristine site on the OCS, would violate the Jones Act. Reversing course after comments from industry stakeholders, CBP issued a modification, which held that the “Jones Act does not apply to activity occurring at the pristine seabed on the OCS, which has been CBP’s longstanding position on the issue.” HQ H317289 (March 25, 2021). While CBP’s reversal appears to be consistent with “longstanding” precedent on pristine sites, the modification itself raises questions about the applicability of the Jones Act in certain contexts as discussed further below.

BACKGROUND

Decades after extending federal law (including the Jones Act) to the OCS for mineral-related energy development projects, Congress enacted the 2021 NDAA, which included a provision confirming that the Jones Act applies to all offshore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf, including wind energy. While most offshore wind projects were planned with Jones Act compliance in mind, this has generally been a welcome development for all stakeholders, with the hope that it would bring needed clarity and certainty to renewable energy development projects offshore.

However, CBP’s first shot out of the gate in January missed the mark, although the agency should be lauded for issuing a correction in short order last month. In the initial ruling, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock (“Great Lakes”) proposed to transport and unlade “scour protection” materials (i.e., rocks) to protect wind turbine generator (“WTG”) foundations in conjunction with the construction of the Vineyard Wind Project located on the OCS off the southeast shore of Martha’s Vineyard. Great Lakes proposed unlading the materials at the WTG sites on the OCS in layers and at different phases of the WTG installation process using both coastwise and non-coastwise vessels under various scenarios.

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Maritime Legislative Update

Jonathan K. WaldronJoan M. Bondareff, and Stefanos N. Roulakis


Joan M. BondareffStefanos N. Roulakis




The end of 2020 has seen significant developments in legislation with implications for the maritime industry as we move from the Trump administration to the new Biden administration. This article provides an update on the status of several key maritime-related bills in the 116th Congress as of December 7, 2020. 

The incoming Biden administration has not developed specific bills yet, but we anticipate infrastructure being at the top of the list. This will provide a number of opportunities for the maritime industry—from expanding title XI loan guarantees to funding for port infrastructure projects, new vessels for new offshore wind projects, and an expansion of cargo preference to support the Jones Act. Of import, Biden’s campaign voiced his support for the Jones Act.

Key Maritime Bills Expected to Be Enacted in the 116th Congress

National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”)

The NDAA is roundly considered to be an annual “must-pass” bill, having passed every year since the Kennedy administration. In recent years, many maritime provisions have been included in the NDAA. The reason for this is that, as an essential bill that is enacted every year, the NDAA creates opportunity for the advancement of policy priorities in the maritime industry if they are included. The House and Senate have agreed to a conference report for the NDAA and the final bill will include significant maritime provisions, including U.S. Maritime Administration (“MARAD”) reauthorization, U.S. Coast Guard (“USCG”) reauthorization, extension of the Jones Act and other federal laws to offshore renewable energy, and funding for ports to address COVID-related emergencies. A few of these bills are summarized below and more details will be addressed in a follow-up maritime advisory.

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New Legislation to Apply the Jones Act to Offshore Renewables

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Stefanos N. RoulakisThe House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R. 4447, the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act of 2019, on September 24, 2020, that included a provision from Representatives Garamendi and Lowenthal (“Amendment 33”) to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) that would confirm the Jones Act applies to all offshore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), including wind energy. Passage of this provision now appears imminent, as it has been recently included in the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). From an operational standpoint, while most offshore projects are planned with Jones Act compliance in mind, enactment of this provision would be a welcome development to stakeholders and bring needed clarity to renewable energy development offshore. 


Background

The Coastwise Merchandise Statute, commonly known as the Jones Act, has evolved over time. The U.S. cabotage laws date back to the founding of the Republic and were enshrined in their current form in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. These were originally laws that dealt with transportation issues for domestic voyages. However, as time progressed and production of marine resources became feasible, the U.S. Congress passed OCSLA, which extended federal law to installations on the OCS. 

Continue reading “New Legislation to Apply the Jones Act to Offshore Renewables”

Marine Plastic Pollution

Joan M. Bondareff and Dana S. Merkel

Joan M. BondareffAs the inveterate pundit Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” This could very well be said for our disposable society, which uses and disposes tons of plastic in ways that are not wise and negatively impact the health of our oceans and sea life within. Although many reports focus on larger plastics, microplastics, which go largely unnoticed, are also wreaking havoc on our oceans. Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that come from a variety of sources, both from degradation of larger plastics and from tiny manufactured plastics that are added to many health and beauty products as exfoliants. Recent surveys by Australian scientists estimate that there are at least 14 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor, with higher concentrations where plastics accumulate at the surface of the water. 

Finding a Solution

Scientists are working hard to find a solution to the plastic problem—particularly the fact that plastic never completely breaks down, but rather only breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. A number of new and interesting ideas have been proposed, such as plastic-eating caterpillars and super enzymes. However, until we have a better system for breaking up plastics harmlessly, we need to develop plans for reducing and recovering marine plastic waste.  

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New Legislation to Apply the Jones Act to Offshore Renewables

Jonathan K. WaldronJoan M. Bondareff, and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Jonathan K. WaldronJoan M. BondareffStefanos N. Roulakis





Stakeholders in offshore wind construction projects, including vessel owners and operators, project developers, and equipment manufacturers, should ensure that their plans for offshore wind development comply with the Jones Act. While most stakeholders already assume in their planning that the Jones Act applies, new pending legislation, if enacted, would confirm that the Jones Act does indeed apply to offshore wind construction.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

The House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R. 4447, the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act of 2019, on September 24, 2020, which included a provision from Representatives Garamendi and Lowenthal (“Amendment 33”) to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) that would confirm the Jones Act applies to all offshore energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), including wind energy. While most projects were planned with Jones Act compliance in mind, this is a welcome development for all stakeholders, as it will bring needed clarity to renewable energy development offshore.

BACKGROUND

The Coastwise Merchandise Statute, commonly known as the Jones Act, has evolved over time. The U.S. cabotage laws date back to the founding of the Republic and were enshrined in their current form in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. These were originally laws that dealt with transportation issues for domestic voyages. However, as time progressed and production of marine resources became feasible, the U.S. Congress passed OCSLA, which extended federal law to installations on the OCS.

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EPA’s Long-Anticipated VIDA Proposed Rule Now Available

Jeanne M. Grasso and Dana S. Merkel

NEW DEVELOPMENT

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) made available its long-anticipated standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels pursuant to the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (“VIDA”) on October 6, 2020. Signed into law on December 4, 2018 as part of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, VIDA established a new framework for the regulation of discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels in an attempt to bring consistency and certainty to the regulation of discharges from U.S.- and foreign-flag vessels.

The first step in implementing VIDA requires EPA to develop federal performance standards for “marine pollution control devices,” which includes any equipment or management practice (or combination thereof) to manage incidental discharges from vessels. After some delays, EPA posted its notice of proposed rulemaking on October 6, available here, to set standards for 20 types of vessel discharges incidental to normal operations. The program implemented under VIDA will replace EPA’s Vessel General Permit and certain U.S. Coast Guard (“USCG”) regulations for ballast water a few years from now, after the USCG finalizes regulations to implement EPA’s standards, including compliance, monitoring, inspections, and enforcement.

BACKGROUND

VIDA was the culmination of years of discussion, debate, and litigation concerning discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels. Although back in the 1970s EPA initially exempted these discharges from the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting program due to the burden of permitting every vessel entering U.S. waters, a federal court ruled in 2006 that EPA must issue permits for vessel discharges. In response, EPA developed the 2008 Vessel General Permit (“VGP”). The 2008 VGP was eventually replaced by the 2013 VGP, which contained some more stringent requirements, such as numeric limits on ballast water discharges, a requirement to use environmentally acceptable lubricants, and new monitoring requirements for ballast water, bilge water, and graywater.

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Latest Developments on Maritime Legislation in the 116th Congress

Jonathan K. Waldron, Joan M. Bondareff, and Dana S. Merkel

As the 116th Congress begins to slowly come to an end, and Congress leaves town without passing a relief bill during the summer recess, the maritime industry can benefit from several bills that have been added to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), in particular those on the House side. Following is a synopsis of a few key items to watch for.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

Numerous bills have been added to the NDAA that impact the maritime industry or provide critical COVID-19 relief to the industry. Although each of these bills was proceeding independently, they were recently added to the NDAA, which has passed reliably every year for 56 years, in an effort to move them forward. The maritime industry-related legislation added to the NDAA included:

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020

The Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 (“CGAA”), which has been in progress for over a year, was attached to the NDAA in full on the House side. The CGAA includes a number of significant authorizations for new cutters and icebreakers, including construction of a new Polar Security Cutter to replace aging icebreakers, acquiring a new National Security Cutter and four Fast Response Cutters, and acquiring a Great Lakes icebreaker. We are monitoring the appropriations bills for FY2021 to determine whether funding is provided for these ongoing and significant procurements.

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Protecting the Supply Chain: U.S. Government Studies the Role of Federal Agencies in Ocean Carrier Bankruptcies

Rick Antonoff and Evan Jason Zucker

In December 2018, the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act (the “LoBiondo Act”) was enacted to, among other things, improve and support the operation and administration of the Coast Guard and update maritime and environmental policy. Section 713 of the LoBiondo Act directs the Comptroller General of the United States to “conduct a study that examines the immediate aftermath of a major ocean carrier bankruptcy and its impact through the supply chain.” In accordance with that mandate, in January 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) published a report on the role of the Federal Maritime Commission (the “FMC”) and Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) in an ocean carrier’s bankruptcy case.

The study was prompted by supply chain disruption at sea and at numerous ports caused by the bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping Co., Ltd. in August 2016. At the time, Hanjin was one of the world’s largest integrated logistics and container shipping companies transporting cargo to and from ports throughout the world. The GAO concluded that the FMC and Commerce played an important monitoring function in the industry, but did not recommend any changes to either agency’s role in an ocean carrier bankruptcy. This is because the GAO found that industry participants have already taken steps to mitigate the effects of another ocean carrier bankruptcy and current law does not authorize these agencies to have a more active role.

The Ocean Carrier Industry

The maritime transport industry is the backbone of globalized trade and the manufacturing supply chain. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Review of Maritime Transport 2019, more than four-fifths of world merchandise trade by volume is carried by sea. Annually, more than one trillion dollars in U.S. exports and imports are moved by ocean vessels. Prior to the current pandemic, the industry was already coping with low-freight rates, reduced earnings, and oversupply as a result of increased global tariffs, volatility in demand, and new environmental regulations. These market conditions have led to the continued consolidation of ocean carriers. “In February 2019, the [top] 10 deep-sea container-shipping lines represented 90 per cent of deployed capacity and dominated the major East-West trade routes through three alliances.” This consolidation in the industry increases the risk of disruption that the financial instability of any one shipping company can have on the global supply chain.

Scope of the GAO Study

To address the objectives mandated in the LoBiondo Act, the GAO reviewed documents filed in Hanjin’s bankruptcy case and documents provided by the FMC and Commerce. Additionally, the GAO interviewed 15 industry stakeholders representing various roles in the supply chain including representatives from four ports, two ocean carriers, one association representing carriers, one association representing freight forwarders and customs brokers, five associations or companies representing transportation and equipment providers, one association representing retailers, one association representing agricultural cargo owners, and officials with the FMC and Commerce. Continue Reading

Implications of Jones Act Changes to the Offshore Energy Industry

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Vessels are the backbone of any offshore construction project, and the Jones Act, which celebrated its centennial this month, regulates their operations in U.S. waters on the Outer Continental Shelf. Originally promulgated as a transportation statute, the Jones Act has governed vessels engaging in offshore construction for nearly four decades. While offshore oil and gas construction operations have been conducted in compliance with the Jones Act for decades, with the burgeoning offshore wind sector there is renewed interest on how the Jones Act will be applied to such projects. Indeed, planning for Jones Act compliance is a major component of successful wind farm installation operations, as has been the case for years with oil and gas-related work. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Jones Act is now a century old, there have been recent significant regulatory and legal developments in its interpretation.

Specifically, after years of debate within the offshore industry, on December 19, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued its decision in its Customs Bulletin, “Modification and Revocation of Ruling Letters Relating to CBP’s Application of the Jones Act to the Transportation of Certain Merchandise and Equipment Between Coastwise Points” (the “Decision”). The Decision became effective on February 17, 2020. Offshore developers, vessel operators, and other stakeholders must now face the question: How does the Decision affect offshore activities?

Further, the Decision currently faces challenges both in Congress and the courts. Some members of Congress who are not pleased with CBP’s actions have been focused on legislating in this area and modifying the Jones Act to include restrictions on lifting operations undertaken by installation vessels. This would effectively overrule parts of the Decision. Stakeholders in the offshore wind, ocean renewable energy, and offshore oil and gas sectors should pay attention to these developments as they will intimately impact offshore construction activities.

Background on the CPB Decision

In both 2009 and 2017, CBP published notices to revoke or modify various rulings, which potentially could have overturned decades of precedent with regard to a sweeping range of offshore operations that have never been subject to the Jones Act. To be frank, CBP did not fully understand how the offshore industry operated offshore, and the proposals were potentially overbroad without CBP understanding the economic impacts on the various types of offshore operations these proposals would have adversely affected. As a result of strong industry backlash on both occasions, the proposals were withdrawn for reconsideration.  Finally, following the 2017 withdrawal, CBP undertook an intensive exchange of information with all facets of industry to fully understand how industry actually operates offshore and to fine-tune and focus its 2019 proposal on vessel equipment issues and lifting operations, which resulted in a decision that took into account comments and input from all stakeholders.

As far as substance, the Decision eliminates previous erroneous decisions that permitted non-coastwise-qualified vessels to transport items that should have been considered merchandise under the Jones Act. The Decision also clarifies that lifting operations may be conducted by non-Jones Act vessels. Specifically, as discussed in more detail below, the Decision 1) broadens the definition of merchandise to make it clear that non-Jones Act vessels can no longer carry out certain offshore activities that they have performed for years under a misguided and overly broad “mission of the vessel” theory, and 2) establishes a new interpretation of “Lifting Operations” to specify the movements that a non-Jones Act vessel can perform when conducting installation or decommissioning operations, which will not be considered “transportation” within the meaning of the Jones Act.

Should the Decision be overturned either in court or through legislation, it will have a significant impact on the market for offshore construction, whether for renewable energy or fossil fuel production. Currently, there are few or no Jones Act-qualified vessels that can perform the necessary lifting operations needed to undertake the multitude of varying construction projects offshore, depending on the crane capacity and vessel and stability characteristics required for a particular lifting operation. Continue Reading

Offshore Wind: Driving Factors and Recent Impediments

Joan M. Bondareff and Dana S. Merkel

This article contains a brief review of the latest developments in offshore wind, including state laws and policies, federal laws and permitting practices, and the impact of COVID-19. The main issue we are now watching is the Department of the Interior’s supplemental environmental review of the proposed Vineyard Wind project, discussed below. Until a final environmental review is completed, we are unable to predict with certainty how many offshore wind construction plans will be approved this year by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (“BOEM”) in the Department of the Interior.

States Are Driving the Offshore Wind Process along the Atlantic Coast

We have reviewed state laws and policies before (see our article in the April 2019 edition of Mainbrace). Although developments offshore California and Hawaii are still being considered, they have been hampered by objections from the Department of Defense to siting wind farms near adjacent military bases. Meanwhile, development along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts remains strong.

We conclude, as we have before, that the governors are taking the lead in promoting offshore wind by adopting new laws and/or executive orders and promoting renewable energy, including offshore wind. Their goal is to bring in some of the more than 40,000 new offshore wind jobs predicted by 2030. Continue Reading