U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
 
Statement of Hon. John T. Myers
On behalf of the National Waterways Conference
Punta Gorda, FL
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role in the nation’s water resource needs in the 21st century.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

My name is John T. Myers of Covington, Indiana. For 30 years, it was my honor to represent the Seventh District of Indiana in the United States Congress. I appear before you today as an advocate of enlightened but prudent national waterways policies and programs, particularly those affecting inland waterways. As you begin your deliberations on the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), I would suggest that this is not just about the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in managing our waterway system, but also the value of our waterway system, itself, to the nation. While we believe that the Army Corps is doing an admirable job in managing our navigation system to the best of their ability, with minimal Federal funds, I’d like to call your attention to several matters that I believe are worthy of your consideration:

I. Inland navigation is vital to U.S. economic and environmental well-being. America is fortunate to have such an extensive system of navigable rivers and waterways serving the vast mid-continent — from the coal mines of West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the corn fields of Minnesota and Nebraska to the chemical plants and oil refineries of Louisiana and Texas. Barges are ideal for moving large quantities of farm crops, fuels, chemicals, raw materials and other bulk commodities that support our basic industries. What’s more, water transportation is economical, fuel-efficient, safe and environ-mentally friendly.

To be specific, the inland waterway system totals some 25,000 miles in length. Included are 171 lock sites with 215 individual locks. Overall, our investment in navigation infrastructure is valued at $125 billion-plus. Every year, this system handles more than 700 million tons of commerce or 16 percent of all intercity freight for 2 percent of the cost. According to the latest Tennessee Valley Authority figures, barge transportation saved shippers an average of $10.67 per ton of cargo.

Intense competition among water carriers insures that such transportation cost savings are shared by farmers, miners and other producers; by manufacturers and processors, and ultimately by consumers. Thus, inland waterways stimulate the Nation’s trade and commerce, the economic vitality of many interior regions, and the competitiveness of exports such as grain and soybeans, supporting tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and incomes.

II. Lack of adequate investment in the navigation infrastructure threatens U.S. industrial and agricultural productivity. Locks and dams are getting older every day, and while the Corps is diligently attempting to maintain system reliability, there are currently not enough funds to keep them in good working order. Their design life is 50 years, and a majority of our navigation structures are now over that threshold. In fact, 58 locks are over 60 years old and 35 locks are over 70. And when not properly maintained, these facilities break down. Typically, navigation locks are out of service annually for a total of about 120,000 hours, a figure that has doubled in the last decade. Most is scheduled maintenance but larger and larger percentages of down time are unscheduled. For instance, a major lock gate failure at John Day L&D on the Columbia-Snake River system in 2002 took months to repair. And last year, Greenup L&D on the Ohio River experienced a sudden failure, forcing barges to use a small auxiliary lock, resulting in an average tow delay of 38.4 hours and an increase in transport costs of $10-$15 million.

Some locks are not only old but outmoded. Traffic at 24 critical locks encounters delays of up to 12 hours, costing the industry more than $155 million annually. Barge users deserve a reliable water transportation system. What’s needed is sufficient Federal investment in new infrastructure — and in the timely maintenance of existing facilities — to assure a first-class navigation system, one able to keep pace with the transportation demands of a growing U.S. economy.

After a hiatus of almost a decade, the authorization of navigation projects was resumed following enactment of major cost-sharing reforms in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. That act specified that waterway users would pay a fuel tax of 20 cents per gallon, with the proceeds used to pay one-half of the cost of lock-and-dam replacements and major rehabilitation. Sadly, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund has run up a large surplus, now totaling about $400 million, while navigation construction and rehabilitation waits and the benefits of new projects, delayed by funding shortfalls, are foregone. One of the major waterway modernization projects that I hope can be included in the next WRDA is the authorization of long-delayed and much needed improvements on the congested and outmoded Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways system. We support immediate authorization for construction of at least seven new 1200-foot locks at L&D 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the Upper Mississippi and at LaGrange and Peoria Locks on the Illinois Waterway.

The Upper Miss is a prime example of the challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces, now and in the future, in managing our inland system. The lock system, built for steamboats in the 1930’s, is obsolete and inefficient, and has lost 10% of its capacity each year over the last ten years due to unplanned closures. Where once we had a vibrant “3rd Coast” for the Midwest with the attendant reduction of transportation costs, we now have a gradual loss of global competitive advantage in grain exports, jobs and quality of life, due to inaction.

Several independent studies conducted by the National Corn Growers Association and other agricultural groups confirm grave consequences if the Upper Miss needs are not addressed in a timely fashion. By 2020, without at least seven new locks in place, the U.S. will lose 30,000 jobs and almost 80 million bushels of grain and soybean exports. This will reduce farmer income by over $500 million per year, widen the trade deficit and increase the Federal budget deficit by $1.5 Billion per year.

By finally moving aggressively on construction authorization for at least these seven locks, where congestion currently exists, you will create over 3-5,000 new construction jobs per year and yield transportation efficiencies that will reduce freight movement costs, which in turn, will help support the existing jobs base in the region. At the same time, congestion on roads and railroads and within our communities will be reduced. There will also be the added value of keeping income in rural communities and fostering a sense of hope for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

III. In the next WRDA, Congress needs to address how the water resources program is being implemented. Since 1824, the Army Corps of Engineers has been charged with administering our civil works program, which started with navigation but later embraced flood protection, environmental restoration and other missions. World-wide, the Corps of Engineers is viewed as a premier engineering organization, but its ranks have expanded in recent years to include many disciplines besides engineers, including ecologists, biologists, chemists, geographers, economists, etc. This is a Federal agency which has a tough job, unlike that of any other agency with which I am familiar, in balancing competing national objectives, particularly economic and environmental goals. I happen to believe that we can have both a robust economy and a healthy environment.

When WRDA was under consideration last year in the other body, the legislation was amended to include several policy reforms. The most sweeping provision calls for peer reviews of project studies, a procedure that was described as a means of improving projects, not derailing them. I agree. Project reviews should look only at scientific and technical matters without getting into policy issues. Outside counsel is bound to be helpful to the Corps and, ultimately, the water resources program.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been criticized in the past for various reasons. One appears to be that some mistakenly assume that the “true value” of waterway projects is reflected in the benefit-cost ratios developed for the economic projects of the Corps. In actuality, those ratios only reflect a range of national economic benefits of a project. To correct that misperception, it would be helpful if, in the future, the Corps were directed to include an additional analysis of the full economic and environmental impacts of a project – on a national, regional and local basis. To insure that there is no question that the entire Corps program is valuable to the nation, it would also be beneficial for all Corps projects to undergo a benefit-cost analysis. Of course, any policy changes should serve to enhance the formulation of civil works projects in their order of importance or national priority and to restore the credibility and polish the public image of the Army Corps of Engineers.

IV. Public policy should favor the waterways mode. Because of the buoyancy of water, barges require less energy per ton of cargo and thus consume less fuel and emit fewer pollutants into the air. Towboats are quiet and out of sight most of the time, skirting cities and towns. There are no loud horns, squealing tires or annoying vibrations. Most importantly, water transportation takes traffic off overland modes, relieving congestion on major corridors. A single, 15-barge tow hauls as much commerce as 870 trucks, which would stretch 11-1/2 miles bumper to bumper.

Both railroads and highways are already crowded, and experts are predicting that highway traffic will grow from 11 billion tons to 19 billion tons a year by 2020 while rail traffic is expected to increase from 2 billion tons to 3.7 billion tons in the same period. But except for a few congested locks, waterways have a lot of capacity. This is true in our country — and in Europe as well. European governments, in fact, have instituted policies to shift cargo from roads to water, alleviating congestion and in the process making roads safer, too. Perhaps surprising for many, the Europeans view this traffic shift as beneficial not only for social and safety reasons but also for the environment, which is highly valued there as here. We would support a policy wherein the Corps of Engineers is directed to expand their benefit-cost analyses by including those social, environmental and safety factors now utilized by the Europeans.

V. U.S. policy should also encourage innovations that increase the usefulness of water transportation. For instance, container-on-barge service is still in its infancy on our waterways. Moving containers by barge has been practiced for the last decade on the Columbia-Snake Waterway, connecting Idaho and eastern Washington with the Port of Portland. And ocean-going deck barges have been used for years to shuttle containers between coastal ports. Just recently, a container-on-barge service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was launched, and plans were recently announced for such a service between Memphis and Louisville. But in Europe, barges carrying containers are quite common and their use is officially encouraged to take containers off busy highways, helping to relieve traffic congestion and hold down road accidents, noise and pollution.

Another water transport system, commonplace in Europe, is the river-ocean vessel capable of navigating rivers and waterways as well as the open seas. Short-sea shipping, as it is some-times called, adds another dimension to water transportation by eliminating the need for cargo transfers at coastal terminals. One such vessel operates in the United States, carrying rocket motors from a Boeing plant in north Alabama, down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico and finally to destinations in Florida or California. Same-vessel service between Central America and Mississippi River points has been tried a couple of times in the past, but the trials failed to meet expectations.

Nevertheless, short-sea shipping has been rather successful in Europe and elsewhere, and I believe it has a future here, too. We must not pass up any opportunity to improve the productivity of our transportation system and, at the same time, enrich our national economy and help our environment. Policymakers should take another look at coastal shipping opportunities, too, such as ships moving containers or even trucks themselves in a roll-on roll-off service paralleling busy Interstate 95 on the Atlantic Coast and Interstate 10 along the Gulf Coast. We encourage the Committee to do everything possible to promote opportunities for expansion of services onto our waterways so that our intermodal transportation system will be enhanced.

IV. Conflicting Federal policies threaten navigation. Lastly, Mr. Chairman, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with implementing and managing waterway projects according to the project purposes outlined by Congress as well as adhering to the various Federal laws that impact the waterways. But, more and more, our transportation network is being jeopardized by interpretations of what Federal policies and purposes take precedence. In particular, the application of the Endangered Species Act has had grave consequences. It has recently come to our attention that there have been questions over whether some of the species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presumes to protect are really “distinct” from other species in the same locations. In an effort to clarify matters and ensure that “sound science” is maintained, we would suggest that the Army Corps of Engineers be directed to request a judgment from the National Academy of Sciences on the degree of genetic variation required to define a “distinct” species.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, for your courtesy in hearing my statement. We appreciate your interest in America’s navigation infrastructure and your efforts over the years to strengthen the inland waterways system. I urge the Committee to consider the public value of waterway transportation and its vital importance to the American economy with relatively few environ-mental impacts. With the leadership of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and continued lock-and-dam improvements, the inland waterways system will provide significant benefits to our Nation, our coastal and interior regions, and our people.

# # #

National Waterways Conference, Inc. 1130 17th Street, Northwest Washington, DC 20036-4676