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Lock And Dam Projects Are Green, Too

August 18, 2023   The Waterways Journal

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The White House calls President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) “the most ambitious investment in combatting the climate crisis in world history.” It included billions for various climate initiatives and programs.  Biden recently remarked, “I wish I hadn’t called it [the Inflation Reduction Act] because it has less to do with reducing inflation than it has to do with providing alternatives that generate economic growth.”


One thing that can’t be denied is that, for whatever reasons, the costs of authorized lock and dam construction projects are skyrocketing. To waterways interests, it makes little difference whether the cost inflation is specific to the sector or part of more general inflation. Projects that were declared “funded to completion” just a couple of years ago will now need hundreds of millions, if not billions, in additional funding. Waterways interests who thought they were close to the finish line feel like Charlie Brown having the football pulled away from them yet again.


With no changes to the cost share structure, some of the projects already authorized and under construction could take 20 to 30 years to build, according to Jennifer Armstrong, director of government relations for Waterways Council Inc. (WCI). The Inland Waterways Trust Fund currently holds about $400 million.


This is about more than just one industry. Everyone benefits from clean, green waterborne transportation. And everyone would benefit from improvements that would allow boats to make quicker transits, emitting less carbon—and saving money. Lock and dam construction and renovation projects may not be as headline-grabbing and sexy as new green technologies, but they are just as important to carbon reduction and climate goals.

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WCI would like to see the remaining cost for seven projects previously believed to be funded to completion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to be written into the next Water Resources Development Act, which is traditionally passed every two years and due out in 2024—with the federal government assuming the full share of the increases.


Given the enormous amounts already dedicated to various climate and green energy projects in the IRA, the urgency the Biden administration is attaching to its climate initiatives and the importance of waterways transportation to clean transportation and carbon emissions reductions, the WCI’s request is not a big ask.