More Big Government

Here’s another impact of Big Government regulations on local communities—this time not so local—and the regulations are long-standing Big Government interference.

The US has four—count ’em, four (New York/New Jersey, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Miami)—deep water ports on the east coast (by deep water, I mean ports that can handle, regardless of tide levels, ships with a draft of 46 feet to 48 feet).  Charleston Port, in Charleston, SC, would like to join that short list, especially with alterations to the Panama Canal due to be completed in the next two years, so that modern ships of that draft can get quickly to a west coast port, if they can’t deliver their stuff via the east coast.  Indeed, the Canal is being altered to handle “Post-Panamax” ships that can handle cargo loads of 8,000 containers of the size you see on flatbed trucks or on freight trains, if you drive around the countryside very much.  That’s up from a current shipping capacity of 3,000 such containers, and that’s the capacity that drives the draft.

But government regulations are in the way.  If Charleston is lucky, they’ll get the red tape worked through and be able to begin deepening its port in 10 years.  It won’t be cheap, either: it cost Charleston $4.2 million just to get started on the tape.  At an additional cost of $20 million and 8 years, the Army Corps of Engineers must

meticulously study all the possible implications of port deepening: the environmental impact of digging up the channel bottom, shoreline and channel dynamics, saltwater intrusion up the rivers, oxygen content of the water and its effect on fish and a cost/benefit analysis of deepening versus leaving it as is.

And then it has to be “peer-reviewed” for another two years.  Some of this stuff makes no sense, either.  How would deepening the channel bottom move more seawater further inland, up the rivers (except, possibly, from disturbances while dredging is in progress)?  How would any of this impact O2 content (again, except during the dredging)?  The cost/benefit seems self-evident.  But what do I know; I’m just a poor, dumb redneck Texan.

Oh, yeah, one more little fillip: Charleston just did this.  They completed a (14-year) project to deepen their port (not enough, it turns out) in 2004.  They just need to update that study, right?  Nah.  Gotta do the whole thing all over again, from scratch.

Meantime, here’s the economic benefit that Charleston will be missing out on because of this red tape, courtesy of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, via the link above.  Every inch [sic] of added draft in the shipping allows this:

• 358,000 pounds of coffee, worth more than $500,000
• 36 John Deere tractors, worth more than $2.4 million
• 58,000 pairs of Adidas shoes, valued at $5 million
• 9,600 laptop computers, valued at $8.5 million
• 1,540 55-inch TVs, worth approximately $3 million

Charleston wants to deepen its port by 5 feet to 50 feet.  Here’s what those 60 more inches would mean for the city.  Per boatload

• $30 million worth of coffee
• $144 million worth of tractors
• $300 million worth of running shoes
• $510 million worth of laptops
• $180 million worth of TVs.

Government regulations are worth more than that, though; they must be.

Here’s another item, loosely related.  Coast Guard safety regulations limit the capacity of ferry boats.  Because the CDC says the average adult American’s weight has ballooned from 160 lbs to 185, the Washington state ferry service has had to reduce its per ferry passenger capacity from 2,000 to 1,750.

But, really, it’s not like we’re wasting all that regulatory money.  Government helps out, too.  Think about Chevrolet’s much hyped and little appreciated electric car, the Volt, which Chevrolet can’t sell at its sticker price of $40,000 per each.  Wrapped up in that little bundle of batteries are government subsidies (both Federal and state) of $250 thousand, per each.  That’s a lot of help.


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