In a speech in Tacoma, Washington on January 17, former ­Congresswoman and past Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission Helen Delich Bentley proposed changing the Harbor Main­tenance Tax from being collected only on inbound ocean-borne cargoes to being collected on all freight from foreign sources entering the United States.

In remarks to assembled West Coast maritime interests, Bentley noted concerns of Washington state shippers that substantial Asian cargo is being diverted to Prince Rupert in Canada to avoid the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), which the U.S. instituted in 1986 to pay for dredging ship channels.

Freight entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by railroad does not pay any tax.

Bentley said the situation is now under review at the FMC. The study was requested by the entire Congressional delegation of the state of Washington – both House and Senate – and members of California’s Congressional delegation. The period for industry comment has closed, and FMC staff is analyzing 70 inputs that the agency received.

During a September 2011 speech, FMC Chairman Richard Lidinsky said the agency faces important legal issues, including where water-borne commerce begins and ends, and where the responsibility lies.