April 24, 2008
Washington, D.C. -- Congressman Steve Chabot offered a motion to during the debate of the Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 2830) to allow the historic Delta Queen steamboat to continue operating for the next 10 years. The motion was narrowly defeated by a vote of 195 to 208.
“I am deeply disappointed that the House has turned it’s back on an important part of our nation’s history,” Chabot stated. “I want to thank all the supporters of the Delta Queen who have worked hard to preserve this important link to America’s past. I will continue to fight to ensure the Delta Queen is able to cruise our rivers for years to come.”
Chabot’s motion was identical to bipartisan legislation he introduced last year to grant the Delta Queen a 10-year exemption from certain regulations so the boat can continue to operate as an overnight passenger vessel. The Delta Queen’s current exemption is set to expire on November 1, 2008.
In a speech on the House floor today, Chabot emphasized the importance of preserving the Delta Queen, protecting the 120 American jobs directly tied to the boat and the positive impact the Delta Queen’s cruises have on the economies of small towns that line the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
The Delta Queen began operating as a sternwheel river steamboat in 1926 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. For the last 40 years, the Delta Queen has safely operated on the rivers of the U.S. under a congressional exemption due to the paddle wheeler’s wooden superstructure not meeting certain regulations specified under the 1966 Safety at Sea Act. While Congress originally intended this law to apply to ocean-going vessels, the Delta Queen, which is never far from shore, was unexpectedly caught-up in these regulations. Recognizing the difference between boats operating on inland waterways and those operating at sea, Congress established the exemption in 1968 and has renewed it on eight separate occasions to allow the Delta Queen to continue overnight passenger cruises.
Earlier in the week, the House Rules Committee, which structures debate on each bill considered by the full House, voted 9 to 4 against allowing the Delta Queen amendment to be offered on the House floor. All of the votes against the amendment were cast by Democrats.
In a parliamentary maneuver, Chabot was able to turn the amendment’s text into a motion to recommit with instructions to add language extending the Delta Queen’s exemption for another 10 years. The motion to recommit can be used by the minority party as a last chance to amend legislation before final passage.
In past years, the Delta Queen’s operating exemption has been included in legislation re-authorizing Coast Guard programs. In 2006, the exemption passed the House by a voice vote as a part of the Coast Guard bill, however it never became law because the Senate failed to act on that legislation.
Chabot’s floor statement follows:
“This motion is simple. It continues the will of Congress - a will dating as far back as 1968 - to allow the Delta Queen to operate within the inland waters of the United States. It is an exemption that has been granted by Congress on several occasions, most recently in 1996. However, unless it is renewed this year, this national treasure will be forced ashore unnecessarily closing another chapter in our nation's history.
“For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Delta Queen and its significance to this nation, let me give a brief history of what the Delta Queen is and is not.
“The Delta Queen is a symbol of our nation's past, serving as the last operational steam paddle-wheeler. She represents where we started as a nation, our trials and tribulations, and our progress.
“The Delta Queen is a registered National Historic Landmark and is a member of the National Maritime Hall of Fame. She is part of the greatest generation, honorably serving our country in World War II - first as a Navy barrack and later transporting servicemen to and from the Navy ships docked in the San Francisco harbor.
“The Delta Queen provides jobs to American families, and is a critical source of revenue for local economies - opening up towns and communities located along the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers, such as Ashland, Kentucky; Gallipolis, Ohio; and Clarksville, Indiana to tourists and allowing mom and pop businesses to flourish.
“Contrary to what the opponents of this motion would have you believe, the Delta Queen is not a safety risk. In fact, the Delta Queen is inspected by the United States Coast Guard more than six times a year and has operated since 1968 without significant incident. Indeed, when Congress first created the inland water exemption from fire-retardant regulations, it recognized that vessels such as the Delta Queen would never be more than a short distance from shore - circumstances much different than ocean liners and other vessels that traverse the oceans.
“Moreover, despite its exemption, the Delta Queen has and continues to operate in accordance with the safety notification requirements set forth in Section 3503(b) of the United States Code and the Coast Guard.
“In addition, the Delta Queen has gone above and beyond these requirements, installing state of the art fire and smoke detection and sprinkler systems as well as mandating fire training for its crew - all of which have been approved by the Coast Guard. In fact, just last month, the owners of the Delta Queen replaced the vessel's boiler at the request of the Coast Guard.
“Mr. Speaker, I don't understand why continuing the Delta Queen's current exemption for an additional ten years has generated such opposition. In fact, last session this body unanimously supported this exemption passing it by voice vote - only to be stalled in the Senate. I can only conclude from this that the opposition we're seeing is not so much about the Delta Queen, but more about a labor dispute. If this is true, why should the American people be the victims, losing access to a national landmark? Why should American jobs be lost? Why should local businesses be ruined? All because of a labor dispute? I hope that unions do not have that type of influence here in Washington.
“I urge my colleagues to stand up for the Delta Queen and keep its chapter in our nation's history alive by supporting this motion.”
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