We might be a little late for Throwback Thursday #tbt, but this old photo of a former IL Corn leader doing a news broadcast on the dilapidated state of a locks and dams really hits home one point – we’ve been working on upgrading our river transportation system for YEARS!
Our fingers are crossed that we get a new Water Resources Development Act bill passed next week. After that, we keep working to pass an increase in the barge fuel tax that will give us the increased income to make some notable progress!
This week, I’ve spelled out IL Corn’s priorities as they stand right now and asked Santa to fix them for us for Christmas. The fact of the matter is, that he could probably fix them all, by bringing us this very last gift.
Santa, we’d love a functional U.S. and state government for Christmas.
For those of you outside Illinois, I’m sure the partisanship and the bickering in the federal government gets old and exhausting. The budget issues are concerning with no solution in sight. The leadership is lacking at times.
Here in Illinois, we deal with that at the state level too.
With a reasonable, functional, and able to compromise government at the state and federal level, we’d be able to talk through our need for locks and dams. It’s a request that just makes sense, yet we can find minimal leadership to help us fix it.
We would have had a farm bill the first time. Do you remember your shock when the farm bill failed on the House floor this year?
We would have E15 incentives because the legislation just makes sense. Who doesn’t want to save money at the pump? Who doesn’t at least want the CHOICE to save money at the pump? Who doesn’t want more money in our state budget?
Santa, this request is short and sweet. Could you give our legislators a change of heart? Make our governments work efficiently and meaningfully towards solutions to our biggest problems?
In the end, that’s all we really want for Christmas.
We have fourteen years of working on upgrading locks and dams under our belt. Fourteen years. FOURTEEN YEARS.
Luckily, we’ve learned a few things.
Legislators don’t want to fund things that take more than 2 years to come to fruition. They want to obtain funding for a project that will return results before they are back up for reelection. This makes our project difficult.
Funding is hard to come by – especially with a gazillion dollar deficit.
Individual Congressmen told us that we needed to build coalitions and get more people involved. We did that. We now have a coalition of agriculture, trade unions, environmental interests, barge companies, and more involved in pushing for upgraded locks and dams. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere so far, but we’ll continue pushing.
There’s a lot of waste and mismanagement. The Olmsted Lock and Dam has been a work in progress since 1988 and still isn’t finished. The original cost of $775 million ballooned to a current cost (for an unfinished lock!) of almost $3 billion. This poor prioritization of funds and project is a problem.
Congress now tells us that public-private partnerships are the ticket so that’s what we’re proposing. Farmers are willing to pay an additional barge fee to increase the private funding if government can allocate funding too. But Congressmen aren’t willing to “increase taxes” in this political climate even though all the folks that pay the “tax” are willing and begging for its implementation.
Government dysfunction hinders us all … and lock and dam funding isn’t an exception.
We have had some recent successes, but the key here is to continue being patient because every gain is very small baby step in the right direction. The Water Resources and Reform Development Act is right now in conference committee. Both the House and Senate versions contained some changes to the funding mechanism for Olmstead which will free up money to start other lock and dam projects on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. This is a win, but a small one. The new WRRDA will not contain an increase in the barge fuel tax or any additional funding allocations.
For Christmas, Illinois corn farmers just want locks and dams that allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace. They want locks and dams that work and don’t spontaneously combust into the river.
If I’ve inspired you at all, would you ask for the same?
RELATED CURRENT EVENT: A new Water Resources and Reform Development Act is in conference committee right now where the House and Senate are trying to iron out their differences in the two bills passed in their chambers. The final bill will hopefully change the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam repairs, which are significantly over time and budget, freeing up money to begin construction on a new locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. For more information on Illinois’ desperate need for new locks and dams, click here!
This is a super fun video that explains some of the reasons we need to update and upgrade our locks and dams. Did you know that the locks and dams we’re using today were built during Mark Twain’s time for paddle boats?
Today we are celebrating the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) that just passed in the House last night. It attempts to fix some of the problems but STILL doesn’t help us get the funds to build new locks and dams. In fact, this WRRDA doesn’t even include an increase in the user fee that industry all agrees to in order to get more money in the pot. This isn’t even federal money!!!
The Illinois Corn Growers Association returned from Washington, DC late last night with a bucketful of stories, opinions, and tactics to make a difference in federal policy during the 113th session of Congress.
Overall, there was a lot of negativity on the hill. We heard from agency’s, associations, lobbyists, and others who all believe that to see any meaningful action on the hill would be a miracle. Conversely, a few Congressmen talked positively that work would get done and bills would be debated and passed because “something has to happen.”
Of course, we hope so.
We hope to see a five-year farm bill passed in 2013. Simply extending last year’s bill after it expired in Sept 2012 to cover this year doesn’t give farmers any sort of certainty about the business climate they must operate in for the coming years. Putting this off isn’t a good decision for anyone.
We hope to see a Water Resources Development Act passed in 2013 too. This week, we advocated for a WRDA bill that incorporated authorization of funds to upgrade locks and dams on the Mississippi River. Congress was marking up a WRDA bill also this week so we are encouraged by some action and hope that we can all work together to see a new lock upgrade start in 2014.
Finally, we want to preserve the Renewable Fuel Standard. We believe in the original intention of the RFS – to help our country become energy independent while improving the environment – and we want to see the standard maintained. Hopefully, with nothing happening on the Hill this year, threats to the RFS won’t have legislative legs to stand on.
All in all, it was a busy four days on Capitol Hill. Days filled with around 150 visits to Congressmen, agencies, associations, and corporations. Days filled with learning about trade, biotech, sustainability initiatives, crop insurance, farm bill, ethanol, livestock and more. Long days with sore backs and aching legs from carrying folders and papers and walking miles over hallowed ground.
All worth it, of course, for the good of the industry.
Celebrate Ag Week this week by sharing our blog on your facebook page or over twitter. Encourage people to gain information about farmers and their food supply. Call your Congressman about any of the above issues. Eat … and know that your food supply is safe and secure.
The aging infrastructure on American rivers is a BIG priority for IL Corn and has been for many years. Tons of Americans turn on the lights or fill up their gas tank without ever thinking about how those inputs arrived in Illinois and the dilapidated locks and dams that got them there.
3. SECURE FUNDING TO UPGRADE LOCKS AND DAMS ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
I really feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this one, but here goes …
Illinois farmers, as well as Illinois business and Illinois citizens, need upgraded locks and dams. They are an important part of the economic driver that agriculture is to the state (more than 50% of our corn is exported) and they are the means by which we receive coal, road salt, and other important inputs.
To put it mildly, if a lock or dam was to fail and commerce on the Mississippi was to stop, every single one of us would feel it.
Commerce on the Mississippi has been significantly slowed this winter as the effects of the 2012 drought linger on. If Mississippi River commerce had closed in the two month period of December to January:
Over 410 tows would be impacted, and more than 10,600 barges would be stopped
4,100 towboat jobs would be impacted
5 million barrels of domestic crude oil would be replaced by imported crude, costing $545M in additional imports
About 300 million bushels of farm products delayed in reaching market
Coal worth $192M would be shut in
Total cargo valued at $7 billion would stop moving if the river were closed between St. Louis and Cairo, IL, due to low water
And that’s just a two-month closure! What we’re actually looking at is a catastrophic failure that will take months to fix unless we proactively update the locks and dams.
The locks we’re using were built for paddle boats in Mark Twain’s era. We need to upgrade them so we can compete with other nations. Not to mention, that we will become second to Panama (SECOND TO PANAMA) when their expanded locks and dams open and ours are still old, crumbling, and inefficient.
For many, the drought of 2012 is already a distant memory. If you don’t make a living trying to grow crops or in an industry that pulls water from diminishing rivers and lakes, you probably haven’t given it a second thought. But low water resulting from our historic drought IS a cause of concern.
Right now, on the Mississippi River, barge traffic is being heavily affected by low water. In fact, the water levels on the Mississippi near Thebes and Grand Ridge are so low that hazardous rock formations jutting up from the river bed eliminate the necessary water depth for commerce to continue.
The rock formations are part of the problem, but so is the capture of water upstream on the Missouri River. It is in the annual plan to hold water back at this time of year allowing for cities and industries upstream to have the water necessary to operate, but without water releases, the Mississippi River commerce will end. We don’t have the truck and rail capacity necessary to offset what we stand to lose with a Mississippi River closure.
This is a complicated problem. Illinois Corn along with other ag industry groups, barge companies, and others have asked for immediate water releases and removal of the rock formations. If we can’t act quickly enough on these requests, commerce on the Mississippi River WILL stop and the citizens of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and others will be affected.