Hoover Dam? That’s Just the Start of What We Wouldn’t Do

On public radio’s Marketplace Morning Report this morning, a report worth considering, “Why we might not have built the Hoover Dam today“:

The Hoover Dam’s completion 75 years ago marked one of the biggest public works projects in the U.S. and a win for jobs and electricity. But experts say the Dam would not pass today’s environmental guidelines.

The Hoover Dam harnessed the power of the Colorado River to generate reliable electricity for southern California, Las Vegas, and many of the factories that helped win World War II. It also created much-needed jobs during the Great Depression. But Joseph Stevens, author of “Hoover Dam: An American Adventure,” says he doesn’t think a project like the Hoover Dam would get off the ground if it were attempted today. “Worker safety rules and environmental impact assessments would make the Hoover Dam too expensive.”

Project Labor Agreements and Davis-Bacon requirements and higher labor costs certainly play a bigger role in today’s public works projects. The Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression, after all. (If worker safety rules today add costs, the costs are justified, as Stevens correctly notes 100 men died during the dam’s construction.)

But a project like the Hoover Dam probably wouldn’t get far enough today where labor costs were a consideration. Environmental regs and litigation would have stopped it much earlier. Heck, you can barely move forward on a solar energy project for all the lawsuits.

Then there’s the public opposition to risk and American power, political and electrical. Woody Guthrie once sang folk hymns to hydroelectricity. Today, Bob Mould can sing about “The Hoover Dam” but only as a metaphor for choices taken by tortured souls. Oh boy.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • John Bode says:

    Labor costs are always a consideration, especially when we’re trying to help manufacturers keep work here and not off shore it. We provide precision heat treating services (harden or soften metallic parts) with locations in Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina.

    I find it interesting that some of our customers who had lost business and production to overseas companies are getting second chances to bring back the work here if they can be cost competitive. Some of the projects that seem lost forever suddenly are back on the horizon.

    Sometimes the greener grass on the other side of the fence is really just astro-turf once you get over there.

    When you look at manufacturing in general and all the lost jobs that may never come back because we are now a service economy and all of those desperately trying to find work, what a challenge we face as a nation. Maybe we are putting ourselves into a box as a country where one day the only way out is to bring back public works projects like the Hoover Dam.

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