Advocacy in Motion: NMMA Discusses Important Legislation

At Marine Recreation Association conference last fall, National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Legal Affairs Nicole Vasilaros spoke in detail about the major topics and key issues for NMMA in Washington, but she also spent time outlining the ways in which NMMA has ramped up its advocacy efforts and why.

The NMMA has had a presence in D.C. since the 90s and the start of the luxury tax on boats. “For about the last two years, the NMMA board has asked to invest more in advocacy. We’re constantly facing laws and regulations that are changing our business and the ability of the consumers to get out there and enjoy the waterways,” said Vasilaros. It’s one thing the association’s members, largely boat manufacturers and dealers, feel they can’t do themselves, she added.

NMMA has lobbied hard at the federal level for a long time, but new efforts are focused also on state and local government interaction. “There’s been an increase in laws and regulations at the federal, state and even at the local level,” Vasilaros said.

Communication has also been an area of focus for NMMA. “If you’re not telling folks what you’re doing and you’re asking them to engage, they’re probably not going to do it, if they haven’t seen your work in action,” Vasilaros said. “So, we’ve definitely built up our communications and trying to tell our story in different ways. It’s not all hocus pocus what happens in D.C.”

A few other projects and groups have also assisted NMMA’s advocacy efforts. In the last session of the Obama administration, Congress passed bipartisan legislation, which authorized a report from the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis to look at GDP for outdoor recreation. Vasilaros said this happens for other big industries, mining and agriculture for example; it had just never been done it for outdoor recreation. The report estimated that $412 billion of U.S. GDP in 2018 was attributed to outdoor recreation.
About the report, Vasilaros said, “this is advocacy in motion.”

A number of outdoor recreation groups formed a new coalition, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, to bring together all outdoor recreation industries—to address issues and legislation as a united front.

Trade and Tarrifs
The Trump administration thrust issues into the spotlight with tariffs that affect marine products. What is most concerning about the trade tariffs for the recreational boating industry is the layering effect and retaliation, Vasilaros said.

Most U.S. manufacturers have global supply chains and bring in components from all over the world. “If all those components are getting hit at a 25 percent tax, that adds up,” Vasilaros said. This is in addition to tariffs for the fiberglass or aluminum hull, which constitutes a significant portion of the boat.

Boat manufacturers that export to Europe and Canada have been hit hard. “They are seeing sales drop instantly,” Vasilaros said. “You can’t be competitive with a 25 percent tax. There are plenty of European and other non-American boatbuilders in those markets.”

Modern Fish Act
NMMA supports the Modern Fish Act, which is born from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This promotes sustainable fisheries and is mostly focused on the commercial fishing industry. It has changed in the 40 years since it was enacted but has never had a significant change on recreational boating. The Modern Fish Act, which was signed into law on December 31, 2018, recognizes the differences between recreational and commercial fishing and adds more management tools for policymakers to use in managing federal recreation fisheries.

E15

NMMA has long battled the increased use of E15 fuel. Despite those efforts, the Trump administration expanded the sale of E15 fuel year-round. It was sold previously only during summer months.

The Consumer Protection and Fuel Transparency Act of 2018 (H.R. 5855) was introduced in the House last spring. The bills aims to improve the E15 label and increase consumer education. Vasilaros said one of NMMA’s ideas includes incorporating questions in the keypad system at fuel stations, which would confirm the purchase of E15 fuel. “Just another thing for consumers to take note of,” Vasilaros said, “making them aware of the right choice. Not good or bad, but what’s appropriate for their use.”

Infrastructure and Conservation
The newest waterways infrastructure legislation, passed in 2018, includes a study for aquatic invasive species management. “What we’ve found is that how folks mange invasive species across the country varies and for good reason; different aquatic species need different management practices,” Vasilaros said. The study will take all those regional best management practices, inventory what’s out there, and share useful tools between regions.
The legislation also authorizes the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, to gather data about the coastlines and environment to ensure a viable waterfront for the future, and continues its efforts to streamline the Corps permitting process.

Bipartisan
NMMA supports other bills and legislation for the recreational boating industry, not based on party politics. Much of the legislation that Vasilaros outlined (the bill for the GDP report, the Modern Fish Act) were supported by both sides of the aisle.

In her speech to MRA attendees, Vasilaros showed a slide with a boat on the water that read: no political divides on the water. She said, “Our issues are not necessarily partisan.”

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