A New Congress for the Maritime Industry?

With a new Congress about to take control of Capitol Hill, will the U.S. maritime industry benefit?

By Tony Munoz 2013-01-04 14:59:00

Roadway congestion and pollution are major problems in the U.S. Alleviating these hazards of American life could easily be solved by utilizing the national waterway system. Saving billions of gallons of fuel each year that pollute our country really isn’t that complicated. In fact, it’s a very powerful analysis that Congress has heard time and time again, but special interests rule Washington.

I was thinking during these times of high unemployment, shrinking government revenues and off the chart deficits that some duly elected person on the Hill would really want to do something for the people of this nation and help get us out of this dismal economy. OK, the math is basic and I’ll say it again. Moreover, after listening to months of campaign ads and absorbing all the rhetoric about changing policies and the way of life in the states, I feel compelled to speak out.

Instead of trying to develop new infrastructure such as wind and solar with $87 billion, an investment in existing infrastructure could put millions back to work immediately, alleviate roadway congestion and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. How do you that? Well, my elected politicians it is very simple, and it doesn’t take a mathematical degree from MIT to understand the analysis either.

Easy Math

Ok, so here we go; there are 15.5 million trucks on US highways, of which two million are tractor trailers, they log about 435 billion each year while consuming 53.9 billion gallons of fuel. Now, add 136 million registered cars and about one million buses to the equation and you have a horrific traffic jam of 152.5 million motorized, fuel burning vehicles bogging down freedom of the roadways and polluting the populace.

A barge moving 400,000 tons of cargo 2,300 miles would use 9,000 gallons of fuel and a truck moving the same amount of tonnage would use about 53,000 gallons. More importantly, over the last decade truck emissions have risen 77 percent. A recent Internal Revenue Report said that “barge shipping is by far the most energy-efficient mode of transportation, extremely safe, causes little congestion and produce little air and noise pollution.” And, the Congressional Budget Office reported national highway congestion resulting in 4.2 billion hours of delay, which wasted 2.9 billion gallons of additional fuel at a cost of nearly $80 billion.

Let’s End the Recession Now

Americans have spoken this election; the economy is stifling the middle class and jobs don’t pay what they used to. That’s if you can get a job, as national unemployment hovers around 10 percent. The industrial cities of the North and Midwest are wastelands of economic despair and the rest of the U.S. has watched countless jobs go overseas to cheaper labor so that multi-national corporations can reap more profits. The top 25 percent of households own 87 percent of the wealth, and most Americans feel totally disconnected from Wall Street as the bailout has cost many much of their wealth on paper.

With the U.S. deficit off the charts at $1.3 trillion, which continues to grow by $4.18 billion per day, Americans want to see a sea-change immediately and it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice, but nobody wants government messing with their dwindling rice-bowl. And, did you know because of the deficit, the three hundred-nine million people living in this country now owe $44,585 each in personal debt?

Let the Maritime Industries Put the Country Back to Work

The U.S. has one of the most prolific waterway systems in the world, with 95,000 miles of coastline and 25,000 miles of navigable inland waterways and lakes. In 2011, U.S. taxpayers will spend $41.1 billion on highways and $11 billion on rail. The Department of Transportation’s total budget is $79 billion, and the Maritime Administration will only get $352 million, of which $174 million goes to the Maritime Security Program for supporting the US military.

When DOT Secretary Ray LaHood recently took the time to call a press conference to announce the American Marine Highway program was getting $7 million, I almost fell out of my chair laughing. C’mon man, a vessel operating company couldn’t build a single tugboat for that kind of money. It was disingenuous at best to watch the government throw pocket-change at the maritime industry.

The U.S. was once one of the most powerful maritime nations in the world. Today, our once great flag lines are now owned by the Danes and the Singaporeans as is the intermodal system moving containerized cargoes. And, since the 1970s, U.S. shipyards have struggled to maintain their infrastructure, and had it not been for the Jones Act, we wouldn’t be building vessels in this country anymore.

The solution isn’t MIT math; it is really simple business analysis. The shipyard infrastructure is already in place, U.S. ports are already operating and the nation’s renewable waterway system doesn’t need a dime of money every year to fix all of its broken concrete highways.

If Congress would provide $1 billion a year for five years for the American Marine Highway program, operators would build vessels, shipyards would immediately hire workers, ports would hire more dock workers, and lots of trucks would quit congesting and polluting the national roadways.

Watching the campaign this year, I heard a lot of wishful ideas about putting Americans back to work and fixing the anemic economy. The people are damn tired of the gridlock and the partisan agendas that try to make the other party look bad. Let’s stop the infighting and put this country back on track. There will be another election in two years, but a lot of unemployed families can’t wait that long. Let’s reduce our dependence of foreign oil, take a lot of trucks off the roads and put the maritime industry back to work, which will put the U.S. back to work.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.