The Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), held a hearing this morning on the importance of preserving the reliability of the Inland Waterways System.
The Inland Waterways System provides a cost-effective and energy efficient alternative to truck and rail transportation and is also important to State and local economies and job creation efforts. One 15-barge tow on a river can carry as much cargo as 216 rail cars or 1,050 large trucks. However, the unreliability of the aging locks and dams on the System is making waterways a less attractive means of transportation, and moving cargo from waterways to rail or truck would produce significant national economic impacts.
"Transportation savings are a key factor in economic growth," said Chairman Gibbs. "As fuel prices continue to escalate, waterway transportation becomes an even more viable alternative for shippers. But, an unreliable transportation system will inject uncertainty into decisions made by U.S. farmers and manufacturers, making U.S. products uncompetitive in world markets.
"Letting the inland waterway system decline further would be an economic disaster to add to the Nation's already significant fiscal problems," Gibbs continued. "Having an inland waterways system that is a viable alternative will keep costs down among all modes of transport. If you take inland waterways out of the mix in terms of transportation options, costs go up and American products become less competitive in the global marketplace. And that means lost jobs."
Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director, Soy Transportation Coalition, testified: "Unfortunately, while Brazil and other countries are aggressively investing in their infrastructure, we remain anemic in investing in ours. It can be accurately stated that the U.S. is more a spending nation, not an investing nation. A high percentage of taxpayer dollars are used to meet immediate wants and needs, rather than providing dividends to future generations."
Robert Dolence, Vice President, Leonardo Technologies Inc. (LTI), added: "It is also interesting to note, in other work by LTI, it has been forecasted that even with sustained low natural gas prices (maintaining less than $4/MMBTU natural gas cost levels for 50 plus years) coal maintains a significant role in electric power generation, industrial and commercial use, and exports with a total coal demand staying above the 1 billion tons per year level for the next 50 years. Based on the combined detailed modeling performed, LTI concludes the Ohio River Navigation System is a vital component to ensuring safe, reliable, low cost, domestic energy -- including electricity -- to our country."
Major General John Peabody, Mississippi River Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, testified: "Catastrophic failure of a lock or dam at a high-volume point along one of the major waterways would have significant economic consequences because other transportation modes generally lack the capacity to either quickly or fully accommodate the large volume of cargo moved on the inland waterways. Therefore, cost and congestion of other modes (mostly rail) could be greatly affected and some cargoes may be delayed for extended periods. For example, the Corps extended a planned 18 day closure at Greenup Locks in 2006 when extensive deterioration of the miter gates was discovered.
This lengthy, unplanned delay cost shippers over $40 million and several utilities came within days of having to shut down due to exhausted supplies of coal."