Levin Testimony to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Harbor Maintenance

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thank you, Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter for holding this important hearing on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the need to invest in our nation’s ports and harbors. 

I introduced S. 412 in the last Congress with Senator Hutchison and over 30 other cosponsors, which addresses the very issue of this hearing.  Tomorrow, I will be re-introducing the same bill with Senator Johnny Isakson as principal co-sponsor, and I expect a similarly large number of cosponsors.  I am attaching a copy of the bill to my testimony.  I thank Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter for being cosponsors. I am also heartened that a “Sense of Congress” based on the legislation was included in last year’s transportation reauthorization bill, MAP-21, which was managed by this committee and enacted into law.  That provision made clear that inadequate investment in dredging is threatening the economic competitiveness of the United States.  This situation simply must be addressed.

Because I am most familiar with the Great Lakes, my testimony will focus on that navigation system.  The Great Lakes has 140 federally-authorized harbors and waterways, three federal lock facilities, 610 miles of federal navigation channels, 20 active confined disposal facilities, and 104 miles of federal navigation structures that include breakwaters, piers, and jetties.  The system has been inadequately funded over the years, and the Great Lakes have a backlog in dredging of about 20 million cubic yards for commercial harbors, which is estimated to cost $200 million to address.  When channels and harbors silt in, harbors are threatened with closure, boaters are obstructed from getting to safe harbor which threatens lives, and vessels are required to light-load, causing shippers to lose millions of dollars of freight shipments, hampering our economic competitiveness. 

The situation has been exacerbated by water levels that hit historic lows this past year.  The Army Corps of Engineers reports that Lakes Michigan and Huron are more than two feet below their long-term average.  Lake Superior is more than one foot below its long-term average.  These low water levels require additional dredging and yet budget requests and appropriations have been declining over the past few years. 

The worst part of this problem is that we have over $7 billion in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that should be used for harbor maintenance, and yet that surplus is being used for purposes other than harbor maintenance.  Shippers are the ones who pay into the fund for harbor maintenance and that is the purpose the funds should be used for. In fiscal year 2013, $1.7 billion in fees is expected to be deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.  Yet, about half of that amount, or $872 million, was included in the budget request for harbor maintenance.  This situation is unfair and needs to be corrected. 

The Great Lakes navigation system handles over 160 million tons of cargo, and accounts for about 10% of all U.S. waterborne domestic traffic, generating billions of dollars of economic value and supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.  The system supports 129,000 U.S. jobs, contributes $18 billion to the economy, provides $2.7 billion in tax revenues, and save the country $3.6 billion compared to alternative transportation modes.  Further, properly maintaining this system has environmental benefits: a cargo of 1,000 tons transported by a Great Lakes carrier produces 90% less carbon dioxide as compared to the same cargo transported by truck and 70% less than the same cargo transported by rail.  The Great Lakes navigational infrastructure is essential to the strength of our economy and the protection of lives and property.  Providing funding to adequately maintain this infrastructure needs to be prioritized.

I look forward to working with you in crafting legislation to ensure our nation’s navigation systems are maintained and improved.  Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to you today.