America’s domestic maritime industry benefits the nation in numerous ways, but there are untapped opportunities to utilize it even more.
Those were some of the main points voiced June 19 when the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation conducted a hearing titled “Short Sea Shipping: Rebuilding America’s Maritime Industry.”
Testifying at the hearing were: U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby; Maine Port Authority CEO Jon Nass; Lake Carriers’ Association President James Weakley; and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Larry Willis. Each of them voiced strong support for the maritime industry.
One of the key topics discussed during the hearing was the Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) “America’s Maritime Highway Program” (AMHP). As explained by Buzby in his testimony, “The Marine Highway System consists of our nation’s navigable waterways including rivers, bays, channels, the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway System, coastal, and certain open ocean routes. These navigable waterways touch 38 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The purpose of the AMHP is to further incorporate these waterways into the overall U.S. transportation system, especially where marine transportation services are the most efficient, effective, and sustainable transportation option.”
He continued, describing the AMHP as consisting of three elements: route designation, project designation, and grants. He stated, “The AMHP is clearly having an impact. Metrics we gather to measure that impact include the number of truck road miles that have been eliminated. Using Federal Highway Administration formulas, MARAD estimates the public benefits of funded projects in dollars. In FY 2016, AMHP grant-funded services moved 35,215 twenty-foot equivalent units by water, saving approximately $1.5 million in road maintenance and congestion costs.”
He then discussed the complexities and challenges of the nation’s cargo transportation options: “Congestion on our surface transportation system significantly impacts our economic prosperity and quality of life. One study estimates that in 2014, congestion cost America’s urban commuters an estimated $160 billion in wasted time and fuel; trucks account for $28 billion of this cost. Overall, the volume of imports and exports transported by our freight system is expected to more than double over the next 30 years. This will have implications for ports, which handle approximately 70 percent of America’s international trade by volume. Most of this additional cargo will ultimately move along our surface transportation corridors, many of which are currently at or beyond capacity.”
Nass pointed out the importance of domestic shipping, saying, “For those of us who live in port cities, moving freight by water is instinct, but it needs to be intuitive for others as well — especially those who set transportation policy. One needs only to sit for a few frustrating hours in Boston or beltway traffic to appreciate the value of alternative transportation. Moving freight from highway to seaway will improve commerce, decrease air pollution, and reduce fuel consumption and traffic congestion in our largest cities. I am not the first to suggest that the United States has an infrastructure problem. There is no denying it. In maritime terms, the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure is like a vessel taking on water – fast.”
He continued, “By not making alternative freight transportation systems a national priority, especially short sea shipping alternatives, I believe that we are misusing our surface transportation system. We are missing a win-win opportunity to both stop the leaks in the highway infrastructure while fostering a revitalized waterway economy nationally.”
Weakley discussed the lower environmental impacts of short sea shipping, as well as the relative efficiency of cargo ships. “It takes less energy to move cargo via water than it does the other modes of transportation,” he said. A U.S.-flag laker can move a ton of cargo 607 miles, the approximate distance from Duluth to Detroit, while consuming only one gallon of fuel. A truck can typically move that same ton of cargo about 59 miles per gallon and rail can move it 202 miles per gallon. Given the lower energy consumption, marine transportation emits fewer tons of carbon dioxide. A laker will emit 19 tons to transport 1,000 tons of cargo 1,000 miles. Trucks making the same cargo movement will emit 190 tons…. Economies of scale also help us achieve lower energy consumption rates. One of our lakers can move 70,000 tons of cargo. That is the equivalent of 700 rail cars or 3,000 trucks. Another measure of modal efficiency is horsepower per ton. Trucks require 12-20 horsepower for each ton of cargo moved. For rail it is about 1-1 and for vessels, it is 0.2-0.3. If trucks could operate with vessel efficiency, they could be powered with a lawnmower engine.”
He also emphasized the importance of the Jones Act, saying, “The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, requires that vessels moving cargo between U.S. ports be American-owned, American-built and American-crewed. This bedrock of maritime policy provides the stability necessary for LCA’s members to invest in maintaining and adding to their fleet. The national, economic and homeland security implications of the law and the regulatory certainty it provides, allows us to enter into long-term contracts. The Jones Act encourages Americans to invest huge sums of money in assets that will last decades.”
Willis highlighted his organization’s commitment to maritime. “Since the nation’s beginnings, waterborne freight transportation has been an integral component of how we move goods domestically,” he said. “As we continue to address our needs, maritime shipping must be a linchpin of any national freight strategy. The maritime industry and the workers we represent look forward to continuing to rise to the challenge.”
He echoed the previous statements on efficiency, adding, “Short sea shipping is also green shipping. When transporting substantial volumes, utilizing these vessels is highly fuel efficient per cargo ton-mile, and can result in substantially reduced emissions. The environmental benefits of short sea shipping also go well beyond the fuel efficiency of any particular vessel. Delays at ports and on the surface freight network more broadly can result in unnecessary truck idling and wasted fuel. The utilization of short sea shipping can have a multiplier effect, functioning as a green option individually while simultaneously increasing efficiency in other freight modes.”
He concluded, “As Admiral Buzby has highlighted in the past, we are 1,800 civilian mariners short of the Department of Defense’s needs. As we like to say in the maritime industry, cargo is king. If there is cargo, we will train the mariners and build the vessels needed to carry it. By increasing the availability of cargo moved through a strong short sea shipping network, we have the opportunity to create thousands of good seafaring jobs and address pressing national security needs with a single stroke. For these reasons alone, we should take every action to promote short sea services.”