The following is the statement of U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, from this morning's hearing on the importance of the nation's maritime trade system and the economic, environmental and global benefits of waterborne shipping:
"I'm glad to bring to light the needs of our ports so we can help the U.S. stay competitive in a global economy. Maintenance of ports and waterways, as well as more efficient commerce, creates jobs. We must make certain we are doing our job and ensuring the infrastructure is in place or commerce will suffer -- that means we're losing jobs.
"While 95% of the nation's imports and exports go through the nation's ports, waterborne commerce is by the far the nation's most ignored mode of transportation. Nearly a third of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is derived from international trade, the bulk of which is waterborne. With more of our economy expected to be dependent on international trade in the coming decades, we must begin to prepare our infrastructure for the future.
"Our integrated system of highways, railways, airways, and waterways has efficiently moved freight in this nation, but as we enter a new era of increased trade among our worldwide trading partners, the nation's navigation system has struggled to keep pace.
"While the ports themselves have done an admirable job of investing in landside improvements and enhanced intermodal connections, the federal government has all but ignored the nation's navigation channels, the gateways to world markets.
"In May 2010, the President proposed an export initiative that aims to double the nation's exports over the next 5 years. However, with the Corps of Engineers navigation budget slashed by 22% over the previous 5 years, and the President only requesting $691 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the export initiative will not be a success.
"In addition, the President's requested a little over $280 million for the construction of new navigation projects. This is almost the same amount as requested for recreation projects, and almost ½ of what was requested for ecosystem restoration projects.
"Only if our ports and waterways are at their authorized depths and widths will products be able to move to their overseas destinations in an efficient and economical manner. Since only 2 of the nation's 10 largest ports are at their authorized depths and widths, the President's budget does nothing to ensure our competitiveness in world markets.
"Transportation savings are a key factor in economic growth. But, an inefficient transportation system will make U.S. products uncompetitive in world markets. And if transportation costs go up, the competitiveness of American products on the world market goes down.
"So addressing the infrastructure needs of the nation's ports is not about economic benefits to a few shipping companies. It is about keeping American farms and businesses competitive and growing American jobs.
"For a tiny percentage of the $1 trillion failed stimulus program of 2009 or the $450 billion jobs program recently suggested by the Administration, we could spend the approximately $1.5 billion annual Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for its intended purposes to ensure the nation's ports are at their federally authorized depths and widths.
"Instead, the Administration through its proposed budget, states that 35% channel availability is adequate to ensuring America's products are competitive overseas. Unless the issue of channel maintenance is addressed, the un-reliability and un-responsiveness of the entire intermodal system will slow economic growth and threaten national security.
"I am a fiscal conservative, but I still believe it is necessary to invest in America's transportation infrastructure to stimulate the economy and keep it strong. Unlike a lot of government spending, investing in transportation provides a positive economic return on the investment.
"We need to make investments in our maritime infrastructure, and other investments that will multiply jobs throughout the economy. Many of the recent suggestions that come from the Administration and elsewhere call for expenditures on projects that simply create short-term construction jobs with little or no economic benefit coming from the project being built."