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Conference Report on H.R. 1495, Water Resources Development Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 1495, WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - August 01, 2007)

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Mr. HULSHOF. I thank the gentleman for yielding. To the chairman of the full committee, I would say as difficult and partisan as this day has begun, I think we are going to end on a very bipartisan high note, and certainly thank the gentleman, the gentlelady from Texas, certainly Mr. Mica and the gentleman from Louisiana who just spoke. Congratulations to all in finally passing this WRDA bill.

I would like to spend just a moment to talk about the legislation, the modernization of the five locks on the Mississippi River and the two on the Illinois River; the gentleman from Minnesota mentioned that earlier as far as the modernization of locks and dams. And I want to do this in a little different way.

Last week, we considered and passed the farm bill. Perhaps I took a little bit of heat for actually supporting that bill. In part, I supported it because it provides an important safety net for our farmers. And, interestingly, the bill we are considering tonight will go a long way to ensuring that farmers don't need to rely upon subsidies to survive.

How is that, you ask? Well, the ability to transport crops to export markets via the Mississippi River provides our Midwestern farmers a better price for crops than if that river was not available. Witness Hurricane Katrina as an unfortunate real world example of that specific example. A recent study conducted on behalf of a river stakeholder calculated that, if we fail to increase the size of our locks and if we were to allow river congestion to increase, farmers would lose $562 million a year. That income would need to be replaced by subsidy payments on the farms or the farms would fail. As such, the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars that this bill includes to modernize our locks is a hedge against the multiple billions of dollars of future farm subsidies and allows our farmers to continue to farm for the markets and not for a government check.

This bill, as has been noticed, is long overdue. The modernization of our outdated locks is also long overdue. These locks are standing out of habit. They were built in the 1930s to accommodate steamboats. Since 1975, the Corps has spent $900 million under fix-it-as-it-fails scenarios, hoping to push major problems a little way down the river. But despite the Corps' best efforts, and I would have to say an amazing job of maintenance on a shoestring budget, the River continues to lose about 10 percent of its capacity every year due to unplanned maintenance closures.

Now, as a last point, a gentle point, I would say to my friend from Oregon, who spoke earlier on the rule, he and I have discussed on several occasions the modernization of locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi, and I want to be kind to him as I say he is not as ardent of a supporter of those modernization efforts as I, and he spoke of the independent review process. I concur with him, but I would remind the gentleman that the independent review that examined the locks and dams modernization woefully underestimated the demand variable for corn and ethanol.

This year alone in my district, tens of millions of additional bushels of corn will be harvested this fall and will need a viable navigable waterway. The study by the National Academy of Sciences did not adequately anticipate this increased demand. So while independent review, I agree, is important, it is not infallible. But I thank the diligent work of the committee to include this modernization. I urge every Member to support the conference report.

Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I yield the gentleman 2 additional minutes, and ask if the gentleman would yield?

Mr. HULSHOF. I yield to the gentleman from Minnesota.

Mr. OBERSTAR. I compliment the gentleman on his statement and his recognition of underscoring the importance of the Mississippi River-Illinois-Ohio River system as the water highway for our midcontinent grain producers.

If you look at a map of the north and south hemisphere, the furthest point of Brazil sticks out of the South Atlantic Ocean, and that is Recife. From that port are exported soybeans. That is 2,500 miles further out in the Atlantic than New Orleans. They market to the same destinations that we do for soybeans, we in the great Midwest, to east and west Africa, and to the Pacific rim. They have a 5-day or 6-day sail advantage.

If we don't do the modernization on the locks, we continue to lose market share in the world marketplace. As I said earlier, grain moves on as little as an eighth of a cent a bushel.

So we have to do this, and it is going to be done. It has waited far too long.

Mr. HULSHOF. I appreciate my friend from Minnesota.

I would tell the gentleman that I grew up in the shadows of the levees of the Mississippi River, and I am the son of a Missouri farm family. We are about 8 miles from the Mississippi River as the crow flies, and the ability to have that navigable waterway means the difference between being in the black or being in the red for our family farm. So that lesson has imprinted itself upon me. And I am pleased to support the gentleman in this conference report, and I thank the gentleman for the additional courtesies.

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