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Public Statements

Relief for the Mississippi River

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITFIELD. We all recognize that in this country we recently had a national election. We have a lot of new Members of the House of Representatives. We have new United States Senators. President Obama and Vice President Biden are back in their offices. We've had new officeholders elected in many State and local communities as well. And while we have a lot of change in the elected offices, we all know that a big part of government relates to what we would refer to as the executive branch. And that means various departments of government and agencies within those departments of government. And those people work very hard. They're committed to the American people. They're not elected. And many times we do not even know who they are.

Now today, I want to raise an issue that is vitally important to all of the American people because on or about December 10 the levels of water on the Mississippi River are going to be so shallow between St. Louis, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois, and then, on top of that, because of rock pinnacles near Grand Tower and Thebes, Illinois, that river traffic may come to a halt on the Mississippi River. And that means there's going to be millions of tons of commodities that are not going to be able to be transported north and south on that river. Of course, that affects not only the recipients of those commodities and the shippers of those commodities but indirectly people who mine, make, manufacture, supply those commodities. And so this potentially can have a dramatic impact in a negative way on the economy of our country at a time when we are trying to stimulate the economy, create more jobs, and make sure that we do not throw ourselves back into a recession.

In early November, and even toward the end of October, over 15 United States Senators, around 65 Members of the House of Representatives, and 5 or 6 Governors of various States wrote letters to President Barack Obama; Major Phillip May, Regional Administrator for Region IV of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Mr. George ``Tony'' Robinson, Region VI, Federal Emergency Management Agency; the Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for the Corps of Engineers; Mr. William Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Mr. Andrew Velasquez, Regional Administrator, Region V of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and Ms. Beth Freeman, Regional Administrator, Region VII of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in which we point out this impending problem.

Now I'm not the only one talking about this. Every Member of Congress along that corridor is receiving phone calls, letters, and emails. We have all sorts of groups out there very much worried about this problem needing to be solved. And it can be solved. But it appears that the Corps of Engineers has an annual operating plan. This annual operating plan determines how much water they're able to release from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River in the wintertime. And I understand that they have to have a plan. But most people in America know that when you have exceptional circumstances, you have some emergency, you have some unintended consequence, that you have to make alternative plans.

And so those Senators that I talked about, those Members of the House that I have talked about, the Governors that I have talked about, the 15 or 20 associations that I have talked about all have gone to the Corps of Engineers and asked them to change their annual plan and release some water from the upper Missouri to the Mississippi River so that we do not have to stop barge traffic on the Mississippi River. And so far, we've heard no response.

I know that there are groups that are opposed to this. There are some environmental groups that are opposed to this--and for valid reasons. And we're not asking this to be done permanently. But this is an emergency that will have dire consequences on the economy of this country, and we cannot stand for even a brief period of time to stop commerce on the Mississippi River.

Of course, there's another issue that I mentioned earlier, and that is that we have these rock pinnacles that are contributing to the problem of this shallow waterbed between Grand Tower and Thebes, Illinois. And the Corps has indicated that they're going to take some action to remove those pinnacles. And that's vitally necessary as well.

So I'm here today partly out of pure frustration. Although some people think that individual Members of Congress have a lot of power and authority--and sometimes we think that--but the truth of the matter is these decisions are being made by people at the Corps of Engineers, maybe the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, and some of these other agencies. They have the legal authority to take action here. But so far, they're unwilling to do so.

I'm here today simply to raise this issue because I don't know what else to do. We've written letters. We've called. These associations and agencies of other governments, State and local, have written letters, have called. We've done everything we can do. We've asked the President to take action. We've asked the Corps of Engineers to take action. And we understand that it's not anyone's personal fault.

This is caused by a drought of unusual proportion. When you think about traffic--all traffic on the Mississippi River in that region between St. Louis and Cairo--coming to a halt, it's going to have a dramatic, negative impact on everyone in our country.

So I simply am here today to focus attention on the issue and to once again ask the President, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, and the Corps of Engineers to take some action to work with us to resolve this problem.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


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