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Water Resources Development Act of 2005

Location: Washington, DC

WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2005 -- (Senate - July 19, 2006)


Mr. GRASSLEY. Thank you, Mr. President. I thank the Senator from Oklahoma.

I appreciate very much the opportunity to discuss the issue of the Water Resources Development Act and particularly that part of the act that deals with the improvement of transportation on the Mississippi River because that improvement is very essential not only to the economy of Iowa but to the economy of the whole Midwest, and in turn that relates to the economy of the United States.

Most importantly, it affects the economy--meaning the economic competitiveness of our industry and agriculture, and primarily agriculture with competition around the world, and particularly that, as I see it, of Brazil. Brazil is becoming very much a competitor with the Midwest of the United States in the production of a lot of grains, particularly soybeans.

I owe a thank you, particularly to Senators BOND and INHOFE, for their strong leadership in moving this legislation forward.

This used to happen every 2 years, a bill called the Water Resources Development Act. But we have not dealt with this issue since the year 2000. This bill is not only long overdue, but it is a very important bill. Not only does the bill which is before us include many updates in existing authorized projects, but it also authorizes new projects throughout the country.

Several examples of these much-needed projects beyond the ones I am going to emphasize are the coastal wetland restorations, but the one I want to emphasize the improvement of is the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Coastal wetland restoration will help protect our inland waterways. We think, maybe too often, of that as being an environmental issue, but it is also about protecting our inland waterways, making sure that there is a multiple use of the rivers, recreation, food, as well as commerce.

In the process of the wetland restoration protecting our offshore energy supply, we provide much-needed flood protection in the gulf coast region. But for my State and the Midwest generally, the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River navigation and ecosystem investments are also very vital because of the multipurpose use of the river. Of course, Iowa is bounded on the east side by the Mississippi River for the entire north and west distance of our State. And Iowa, as well as the Nation, relies on the river to move both goods that are domestically oriented and distributed as well as goods that are internationally distributed.

The United States enjoys a comparative advantage in corn production worldwide. My State is also the No. 1 producer of corn, and usually we are also the No. 1 producer of soybeans.

In regard to corn production, the per-ton cost of transporting corn in the United States is lower than any other country. But our country must not allow its transportation infrastructure to continue to deteriorate. Quite frankly, that is what this legislation is all about. Because of deterioration, it needs to be enhanced, it needs to be improved, and it needs to be kept up to date. Our international competitors are making major investments in their transportation systems.

In Brazil, surface transportation--meaning railroads and highways, primarily highways--is very much inferior to ours. In March, I took a trip to Brazil. I can tell you that when we were out in the countryside, what we would call rural Brazil, we ran into more potholes than you could count, something that farmers of Iowa would not anticipate or tolerate from our local officials. You wonder how local officials get reelected because they are not going to be reelected because of filling potholes. But Brazil, on the other hand, as far as their river transportation, brings into question the competitive advantage the United States might have that we could be losing. Brazil has made significant investments in its river infrastructure. They do not have to have locks and dams, such as we do on the Mississippi, in the case of the Amazon. I saw facilities on my trip to Brazil on the Amazon that we could be very jealous of, the opportunity to bring commercial seagoing ships up the Amazon to load in Brazil on the Amazon and coming in this far with very major terminals for loading primarily soybeans, but also they can go up the river as well.

There is a new facility being built at this point. I believe these ships go even further up. But at least I wanted to be sure of here and here that it is possible to load those ships at that point. They don't have to use barges as we do from Iowa to New Orleans to load. This would be the equivalent of our being able to take oceangoing ships up to Memphis to load for soybeans.

You can understand then that we have this lock and dam situation that makes it possible for us to use the Mississippi River for major transportation. Keeping that up to date is very important if we are going to be economically competitive with how they can move their agricultural products--primarily soybeans--out of Brazil into the world trade.

What they don't have that we have is very good roads, although they are improving them. They don't have the railroad system we have in the United States that makes it possible for us to get our grain very easily to the Mississippi River or using railroads to get it down to the gulf. But they are working on that. Right now we are competitive because they do not have that land infrastructure we have. When they get that, we will have a hard time competing.

That brings up the point of this legislation and getting it passed, to make sure our Mississippi infrastructure is up to date. We must invest in major improvements in all of our transportation infrastructure. If we don't make these investments in our roads, our rails and water, the U.S. agricultural industry and labor will pay the price.

Last year we did a lot to help with surface transportation, primarily referred to as the highway bill, although maybe not entirely highways. We provided $295 billion for road, transit, and rail improvements in that bill we passed last year. These funds will help facilitate the movement of our goods. The surface transportation bill will help alleviate congestion so our trucks can move more efficiently.

It also provides additional loan authority and tax credit to help railroads invest in much-needed capital improvements and to help meet the large demands for their services.

According to the Congressional Research Service, last year U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $1.275 trillion compared to $1.115 trillion in 2004 and $1.023 trillion in the year 2003.

You can see very much an enhancement in value of our exports from the United States according to the Congressional Research Service. Of course, our consumers and our manufacturers, and to some extent food supply, rely upon importing goods into the United States. But whether it is exports or imports, whether it is consumers or input into manufacturing and agriculture, many of these goods travel on our inland waterways.

Again, emphasizing the need to get this legislation passed, because it is also forecast to beat our exports and imports are going to continue to grow in the future, we must be able to efficiently and economically move these goods.

When I get more parochial in my economic observance of the need of this legislation, it is because nearly two-thirds of all grain as well as soybean exports are moved through the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. According to one study, unless the Army Corps of Engineers modernizes, which means Congress giving them the ability to do it, unless we modernize the lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers, the cost of transporting just one commodity, corn, to the export market would rise by 17 cents per bushel.

As a result, corn and soybean exports would decline by 68 million and 10 million bushels per year, respectively, and the decline in corn and soybean exports would reduce farm income by $246 million. This highlights how important barge transportation is to the farmers but in turn to the economy generally.

In addition, there are many environmental benefits to river transportation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, towboats might have 35 to 60 percent fewer pollutants than either train locomotives or our big semitrucks in transporting anything, but particularly in regard to what I am talking about, the necessity of moving grain.

A color chart used by the Senator from Missouri shows the same thing. I have a black-and-white chart. The information is the same, but it is cheaper to make white charts than it is colored charts.

It shows one barge can move what 15 jumbo hopper cars of railroads can move or what 58 large semis can move. Not only is that an environmental issue, that is an issue of economy of moving a product. Most importantly, when you are waiting for a long train at a crossing, think in terms of fewer hopper cars because of what one barge can move. Of all of the trucks you meet on the interstate or the two-lane highways of the Midwest, think how many more there would be if we did not have transportation to the gulf by barge. If you have 15 of these barges being pushed by one motor, you would have 2.25 miles of train, 180 cars or, in this case, 870 large semis.

I hope everyone can see that moving a lot of merchandise to export on the Mississippi River is taking an awful lot of pressure off the highways, an awful lot of pressure off of the railroads. It is environmentally sound in the process.

The Army Corps of Engineers data suggests that the Nation currently saves $100 to $300 million in air pollution abatement when moving bulk commodities by barge through the Mississippi River system. In these times of high fuel prices and with the need to conserve energy, one gallon of fuel in a towboat can carry one ton of freight 2.5 times further than rail and nine times further than trucks.

Quoting the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimate, shifting from barge to rail results in fuel usage emissions and probable accident increases by the following percentages: 331-percent fuel usage; 470 percent less emissions; and 290 percent less probable accidents. Shifting traffic from barge to trucks increases fuel use 826 percent, emissions 709 percent, and probable accidents by 5.967 percent. In addition, another 1,333 heavy trucks would be added to our already congested roads.

For these above reasons, we have this legislation before the Senate. Several of my Senate colleagues for many years have been seeking authorization for this lock and dam modernization as well as enhanced environmental restoration of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. To get that done, we have to get this bill to the President for his signature.

I am very pleased the Committee on Environment and Public Works included these important initiatives in this Water Resources Development Act and that a truly bipartisan group of Senators is advocating for this important modernization. If anyone believes it is always Republicans attacking Democrats and Democrats attacking Republicans, this is an ideal initiative that shows how widespread bipartisan support and cooperation can be in this Senate when there is a national emergency. That national emergency is environmental, the national emergency is for our economy to be competitive, the national emergency is safety on our highways, to relieve glut on our railroads. It is all around.

This is a bipartisan effort to cooperate for the good of this Nation because this lock-and-dam system of the Upper Mississippi River was built in the late 1930s, I suppose over a period of a few decades. But many lock chambers are only 600 feet long and cannot accommodate the barges we are talking about used in the modern day to get things into the international market. These structures require a modernization because there is a tow configuration that needs a double lock to pass. This adds to mounting delay time when we do not have the modernization. It amounts to increased costs to the shippers, increased harm to our environment with higher emissions and higher sediment suspensions in the river channel, the loss of jobs when we are not competitive, and lower wages when we are not competitive.

Increased traffic levels without these improvements will result in gross farm revenue loss of over $105 million per year. This does not take into account the huge cost of increased highway and rail transportation.

We realize the authorization of the lock-and-dam improvements is a first step in a lengthy process, but it is a necessary step and one that a bipartisan group of Senators, an increasing number of Senators in a bipartisan way, has been working on for a few years.

It is an important and necessary project for our Nation. I urge my colleagues to vote for this balanced legislation, not to vote for any amendments that are going to dilute it or harm it in any way. When we get this number of Senators working together in a bipartisan fashion, this ought to be a test of something that is needed, a test of something that is good, something to move forward on. It is balanced legislation and, of course, it is good for the country.

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