Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “The Economic Importance of Seaports: Is the United States Prepared for 21st Century Trade Realities?”

Date: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 Time: 07:00 AM

There was no video broadcast for this event.


Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “The Economic Importance of Seaports: Is the United States Prepared for 21st Century Trade Realities?”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011; 10:00 AM

2167 Rayburn House Office Building



Statement of
The Honorable Timothy H. Bishop, Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on “The Economic Importance of Seaports:  Is the United States Prepared for 21st Century Trade Realities”
October 26, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the economic importance of our Nation’s seaports.

I could not agree more with the premise of this hearing.  Seaports are the critical hub of exports leaving and entering the United States.  Nothing could be more important to our trading and economic balance than to ensure that our seaports are prepared to handle cargo and create jobs.

Twice in the last 5 months we have held hearings on issues and legislation associated with our maritime and inland waterways system.  We have heard from witness after witness about the importance of maintaining our waterway transportation system.  I get it, and I think we all agree that more needs to be done.  The problem that I am struggling with is how we meet the needs under the present constraints that we are operating under.

As I have looked over the testimony from our witness’s today I am struck by three consistent themes.  The first theme – that in order to prepare for a shipping world where the cost of shipping and the timing of getting the commodities to market are the market drivers – we need seaports that can support the shipping carriers of the future along with the landside infrastructure to quickly and efficiently move the cargo from ship to rail, trucks or airplanes and out to the intended industries.

The second theme is that ports create jobs – lots of jobs – both directly loading and unloading ships and indirectly through the moving and distributing of the commodities from port to destination.  If the seaports lose capacity or cannot handle the bigger container ships, then ships and jobs go away – to Canada, Mexico, or other ports that will support them.

The third theme is that we need to find a more efficient and timely way to fund and support our seaports.  The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the U.S. Army Corps of  Engineers Operation and Maintenance, and Corps construction programs, along with private partners have historically stood together to find ways to meet the seaport needs of our country.

This is where I am having a problem.  Under the 112th Congress, the Republican majority pushed to cut over $500 million (or 10 percent) in FY 2011 from an already strained Corps budget.  Included with this overall cut, H.R. 1 proposed to reduce the Corps’ construction account by over 16.8 percent over the previous fiscal year’s level.

The fiscal year 2012 budget follows the same trend.  The House-passed funding bill for the Corps further reduces the level of funding for the Corps by 11.5 percent (when compared to FY 2010 levels), including a remarkable cut of 20.5 percent to the Corps’s construction account.  I have heard my Majority-counterparts suggest that, somehow, the Corps should be doing more with less; however, I do not understand how shifting money around without having the discussion about the overall impact to the Corps budget is good for anybody.  Somebody’s ox is going to get gored.

Contrast this with the recent jobs proposal of President Obama, which calls for an increase in investment for our nation’s infrastructure, including its wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, as well as commercial ports, levees, and projects on the inland waterways system.   We need to get our ship back on an even keel with leadership, sound policy and investments in the programs and infrastructure that keeps our country moving forward.

I hope that, today, we can all concur in our support for increasing expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.  That seems to be without question.  However, that broader agreement does not address the reality that unless we increase the overall investment in the Corps of Engineers, we cannot increase the funding for harbor dredging and channel maintenance without impacting other Corps construction or maintenance or restoration projects.  The mantra of doing more with less makes for a great bumper sticker but makes for terrible public policy, especially when considering the large number of jobs and the impact to our nation’s economy.  We simply cannot have it both ways!

We all understand the terrible spot we are in with the National financial picture.  It is not pretty and it will not be fixed overnight.  I would contend that doing “more with less” with respect to our seaports and waterway infrastructure harms our nation, and makes the outcome we all seek, fiscal sustainability, more elusive, for several reasons:

First, it directly impacts millions of jobs across the Nation.  By one count potentially jeopardizing over 13 million jobs.

Second, it has a substantial negative impact on local economies and the bottom-line of industries, including both large and small businesses and the employees they support.

Lastly, it reduces our Nation’s abilities to compete in a global trade economy.

I am glad we are having this conversation today, because it allows us to highlight the problem that we are having – our inability to have an open and expansive dialogue on how we move forward from the quagmire we find ourselves stuck in.

While we bicker about “Congressional earmarks” and cutting back on all forms of regulation and agency budgets, the seaports continue to silt in, our shipping channels continue to shoal and narrow, and our infrastructure falls apart from age and neglect.

The result is that more and more of the shippers of the world are looking to other countries to move their goods and services.

We have to prepare for the future world of shipping and seaports.  We have to protect our economy and our jobs.  We have to think smarter and more strategically in terms of integrating sea shipping with rail, roads and air distribution systems.  We cannot do this without having an integrative and strategic approach.

To do otherwise would be, in my opinion, be foolish and a real waste of an opportunity to provide the public with leadership that they are demanding.  I stand ready to have that discussion and encourage my colleagues and the administration to sit down and get to solving problems rather than just arguing about them, and pointing fingers with respect to who caused them.

I yield back the balance of my time.