Yesterday, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held its kickoff hearing to begin the process of advancing a 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Nucor Corporation’s Director of Corporate Logistics Rob Roberson testified on the importance and value of waterway transportation as an efficient and cost-effective way to move both goods and supplies:
“Inland waterways and ports are an essential part of our nation’s transportation system and economy, creating jobs and revenue regionally and nationally. As a company that relies on just-in-time delivery of products to our customers, an efficient transportation infrastructure is vitally important.”
Nucor, as the largest steel manufacturer and recycler in the United States, utilizes waterway transportation for up to 90 percent of its supplies for its mills along the Inland Waterway System.
Chairman Inhofe in his opening remarks reminded that the EPW Committee can only authorize, not appropriate—something Rob also highlighted in his speech:
“Regular investment will ensure our waterway infrastructure remains competitive and our economy will continue to grow, and we appreciate the work this committee will undertake to reauthorize WRDA. We also encourage appropriators to follow through with funding to ensure that the merits of WRDA 2016 are fully achieved.”
The president’s budget release earlier this week offered a 22 percent reduction to the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) Civil Works budget, meaning a $1.2 billion decrease in annual funding. “Lower priority construction” as well as operations and maintenance work are listed for cuts. Maintenance for federal navigation channels, a target for cuts, shows the administration does not recognize that ports connect our manufacturers to the world. Manufacturers will continue to be strong advocates for port and inland waterway infrastructure, beyond just the WRDA authorization effort. We will be vigilant as the House and Senate Appropriations process commences to ensure critical Harbor Maintenance Fund targets are met and inland waterway infrastructure is appropriately funded.
The Corps is already burdened with a backlog of maintenance projects, so now is not the time to make further cuts to our infrastructure. Dr. Mattei of the American Society of Civil Engineers testified that already it would require an investment of $15.8 billion between now and 2020 to eliminate our aging water infrastructures drag on economic growth, and the cost continues to grow as we delay. “Catching Up,” an NAM report of infrastructure investment, found that the United States had cut investments in our ports and inland waterways by more than 18 percent from 2003 to 2012, down to just .06 percent of GDP in 2012.
Marathon Petroleum Corporation, another NAM member company, also presented testimony, speaking to the impact on its bottom line of the bottlenecks and delays on the Inland Waterway System. John Swearingen, senior vice president for Marathon, remarked that a failed gate delays shipments for as much as 50-60 days, and a broken lock can take months to repair. In those cases, its costs continue to increase as the backlogs at locks and dams more frequently delay shipments.
Though Congress is supposed to pass WRDA every two years, the process had become irregular in the recent past. Previous versions were enacted in 2000 and 2007, and then in 2014, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. In order to maintain the competitiveness of American businesses in a global market, investment in our ports and waterways is vital. It’s important that manufacturers see the committee begin this bipartisan effort to continue tackling the billions of dollars of needed maintenance to our ports and inland waterways.
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