Reviews of my earlier posting lambasting the Missouri Corps of Engineers got mixed reviews. Among the negatives was this reaction from a reader at Daily Kos:
A full tow of river barges can carry two trainloads of grain. A train can carry 400 truckloads of grain. So for each of those barge tows you want to get rid of, you propose to replace them with 800 more trucks on our overcrowded and deteriorating highways. It’s stupidity like that that gives us environmentalists a bad name- please research the consequences of your bird brained ideas before you dump them on us.
Ouch! A reply is called for.
Let me reiterate that the Corps’ own 1998 fifty million dollar study of their plan to build more locks and dams concluded that doing so was not cost effective. The Corps ignored its own study and lied about the conclusions, until its chief economist, Donald Sweeney, called the top brass on their lies.
I’m not an economist for the Corps, so my explanation of why building those locks and dams wasn’t cost effective won’t be fiscally precise. But neither will it be “bird brained”. (Considering that I wrote about Least Terns, I wonder if you intended the pun, SlyDi.)
Barge traffic has substantially decreased over the decades in favor or using trains and trucks. And for good reason. While the idea of cheap transportation (let the currents do the work instead of fossil fuels) appeals to us in this age of global warming, the reality is that such transportation isn’t cheap. Congress is giving the Corps four billion dollars for lock-and-dam construction. Should we assume that such construction–aside from the issue of being cost ineffective–won’t depend on the use of fossil fuels to run the heavy equipment?
Furthermore, not all the bells and whistles of the lock-and-dam system on the Mississippi can disguise the problem with barge transportation: it is slow and undependable because of the weather. Droughts can make the river too low for barge traffic. And even in good years, the traffic will be halted several months because of winter weather.
Of course, I’m not crazy about the idea of the fuel it would take to ship barge-delivered products by train and by truck. But I will say that at least the heavier highway traffic could be alleviated if the government were to mandate that the trucking industry use the roads at night.
Another reason I disapprove of using barges is that the product they carry the most is corn. If ever there was a product that ought to go extinct, it’s corn. Much of that corn is being shipped to New Orleans so that it can be shipped abroad. To feed the world’s hungry? Hardly. Many countries that could effectively feed themselves find their farmers undercut because we subsidize our farming industry.
And we subsidize–of all possible crops!–corn. Corn requires more atrazine than other grains, as well as more of other herbicides and more fertilizer. And the longer we grow it, the more of these poisons are required each year. There is a large dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico around New Orleans, thanks in large part to runoff from such products.
What isn’t being shipped abroad is being used for ethanol–don’t get me started on the stupidity of that industry–and for high fructose corn syrup–here’s to your ill health.
I confess that I digress. The subject here was barges, not corn. So? It’s still worth saying. And anyone who disagrees with me deserves a corn cob up ….
But I’ll get back on topic.
Congress mandated that the Corps of Engineers was to protect Least Terns, Pallid Sturgeons, and Piping Plovers. Once, my husband saw a Least Tern nest destroyed because the Corps flooded Ellis Bay to let a–as in one–barge through. Congress might as well have said, “Protect terns, sturgeons, and plovers … when the barge industry finds it convenient.”
So, SlyDi, I stand by my hostility toward the Corps of Engineers–that model of efficiency that helped New Orleans to its death.
They should all be employed by Weber Concrete, because pouring cement is what they’re all about. I don’t expect to see the day that any of the brass at that agency give a rat’s patootie about any bird or fish.