May 13, 2011

Waterways Council’s newsletter, Capitol Currents

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The heavy rains came in March and intensified in April, and just as happened prior to the Great Flood of 1927, the storm system lingered over the Upper Midwest – already deluged with heavy snowmelt from northern plains – flooding rivers and streams, driving thousands of residents from their homes, and interrupting barge traffic on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries.

“We are currently experiencing the largest flood in the [Mississippi River] watershed and in the history of the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) project,” which dates back to 1928, said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division and also president-designee of the Mississippi River Commission (MRC).

“As the highest crest in history works its way downstream, the last line of defense in protecting life and livelihood is the proper operation of the MR&T project,” he said, noting that no mainline levee built to MRC specifications has ever failed.

High water, rising perilously close to the top of some levees, caused officials to close about a dozen locks on the Ohio, Upper Mississippi, McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River navigation system, Green, and Kaskaskia Rivers. At several river bridges, floodways and city flood walls, the Coast Guard set up “safety zones” with navigation restrictions.

As the river crest slowly moves downstream, many of the locks have now reopened. The river was expected to crest yesterday at Memphis, tomorrow at Helena, next Monday at Greenville, May 19 at Vicksburg, May 21 at Natchez, the next day at Baton Rouge, and May 23 at New Orleans.

Because of the high water, the Corps has suspended work on a 15-mile section of the New Orleans hurricane and storm damage risk-reduction system paralleling Mississippi River levees – meaning that it won’t meet its June 1 deadline for 100-year protection. Officials said the system would still be finished “by the peak of the hurricane season.”

High water on the Mississippi carries tons of sediment which clogs the shipping channel at river crossings and the vital Southwest Pass. Four dredges are now working to keep it open, but more may be needed. Some officials said the increased dredging needs might require as much as another $60 million – necessitating emergency supplemental appropriations.

To save historic Cairo, Ill., and take pressure off rain-weakened levees, the Corps activated the nearby Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway last week, opening a two-mile gap in the Mississippi River levee on the Missouri side of the river, sending flood waters gushing across the 130,000-acre floodway, but lowering the dangerously high river level.

The floodway, operated only once before, is one of several sites where flood flows can be diverted. Others include the Bonnet Carre spillway above New Orleans, opened on Monday, sending river waters into Lake Pontchartrain, and the upstream Morganza Floodway and Old River Control Structure, funneling water into the Atchafalaya Basin.

Final FY 2011 Budget Supports Civil Works

With less than half the current fiscal year remaining, Congress in mid-April passed the final in a series of “continuing resolutions” to keep Federal agencies operating for the rest of FY 2011. The Corps of Engineers’ civil works program didn’t fare as badly as some had predicted – receiving just $72 million less than the President’s FY 2011 request but $236 million more than the FY 2012 request.

Investigations, construction (not including recisions), O&M, and MR&T accounts received slightly more than the President had sought in his FY 2011 budget. For details, see the chart at left.

Because many navigation channels have silted up from widespread flooding and other damages have been caused in several southern states, particularly Alabama, from hundreds of devastating tornadoes, it is generally anticipated that Congress may provide funds for necessary dredging and infrastructure repairs in a supplemental appropriations bill later this year.

Waterways Trust Fund Needs Recapitalization

At two recent Senate hearings, several lawmakers urged the speedy recapitalization of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. “We really do need some detailed planning” regarding the trust fund, Sen. John Boozman (Arkansas) told an Environment and Public Works Subcommittee. “I think [the Administration] is going to have to take the lead; it is something that needs to be done.”

“There was a plan that the commercial users of the inland waterways worked on... with the Administration... to increase the fuel tax on themselves, on their own fuel, to put more money into the trust fund so locks... could be done,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) at an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “Does the Administration have its own plan to enhance the revenues in the trust fund and when will we see the plan if there is one?”

“We are working with the Inland Waterways Users Board and the industry to develop a plan to increase the funding in the trust fund as well as looking at ways to equitably charge the users in the future,” responded Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). The waterways industry would welcome such consultations, but there have been none since the proposed “capital development plan” was formulated some 18 months ago.

Should Navigators Pay for River Recreation?

“There is a need to increase the funding available for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund,” Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) told the appropriations panel. “I am worried,” he said, “about the ability to move ahead” on pending improvements on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway modernization – projects which were authorized in 2007.

“I was pleased,” Sen. Harkin said, “with the Users Board’s proposal [developed in collaboration with the Corps of Engineers] which recognized that need but also called for more efficient processes regarding navigation construction and reworking the definition of what is considered navigation.”

The lock-and-dam system shouldn’t all be charged to navigation users, he said. The impoundments provide diverse recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, and bird-watching activities. “It shouldn’t all be counted as navigation,” he said; “it should be counted as navigation and recreation.”

In critical condition. Two Oklahoma locks and dams on the McClellan- Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System are on the Corps’ watch list – Chouteau L&D 17 near Muskogee and Newt Graham L&D 18 near Inola. Both locks were dewatered for intensive maintenance in 2009 but now require work on their lock motor control centers.

Sen. Alexander Wants Administration Proposal

Sen. Alexander pressed Ms. Darcy on when the Administration’s proposal would be ready for “us to see.” Ms. Darcy: “Hopefully soon.” Sen. Alexander: “A few months or a few years or what?” Ms. Darcy: “Less than a few years and more than a few months.”

“There is a certain urgency to this,” Sen. Alexander responded, “when you have the users of the waterways who are agreeable to contributing extra dollars to create projects that all of us believe are important for new jobs. I think the sooner the better.”

Other sources have indicated that the Administration does not intend to have its proposal ready until the President’s FY 2013 budget is finalized and submitted to Congress in February 2012.

Water weeds. Budget cuts have eliminated the only Federal research program for aquatic weed control. For 40-plus years, the Corps of Engineers has developed innovative ways to manage pesky aquatic plants.

Federal Budget Includes Increase in User Charges

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House may be working on a new waterway user charge proposal. In recent weeks, officials have dropped hints that OMB might be considering proposals requiring commercial navigation to make much greater contributions to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

One possible approach could be some form of ton-mile levy on waterborne commerce to replace the current fuel tax.

At this time, fuel taxes finance the Federal highway program, but the White House recently said it was not considering a vehicle-miles-traveled fee to take the place of the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for the highway program.

The President’s FY 2012 budget request details the additional Federal receipts anticipated to result from pending proposals, including one to “reform inland waterways funding.” Budget tables show new receipts offsetting inland navigation costs by $196 million in FY 2013 and by a total of $917 million over the next decade.

Sen. Baucus Presses for Funding Proposal

If the Administration doesn’t make specific proposals for recapitalizing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, “I suggest not much is going to happen,” Sen. Max Baucus (Montana) told Ms. Darcy at the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee hearing. “The President must lead. The Administration is not leading.”

“I am very concerned,” he added. “The Administration had better come up with something pretty fast... You make vague proposals but nothing to back [them] up. So where is the beef?”

The Administration hasn’t told us how it proposes to finance inland improvements, Sen. Baucus said. “I see words, not deeds... I am just urging you, in your deliberations, to fight hard to get proposals.... You had better come up with something quickly, as it is going to get worse. Time is running out.”

Lawmakers Don’t Want Dredging Fund Diverted

As she did in the House, Asst. Army Secy. Darcy caught flak from Senators on the Administration’s budget initiative to tap the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for other agencies’ navigation-related but unspecified uses. “No decisions have been made yet on what additional costs would be proposed to be paid from the HMTF,” she testified.

“I just want to lay a warning,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) “that there is a growing number of Senators on both sides of the aisle who want the taxes paid by [port users] to be used for the purposes for which they thought they were being taxed, which is dredging and keeping ports open.”

Sen. Landrieu was referring to legislation – the Realize America’s Maritime Promise or RAMP Act – to ensure that amounts credited to the trust fund are used for harbor maintenance. The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Carl Levin (Michigan), with 18 co-sponsors, and in the House by Congr. Charles W. Boustany, Jr. (Louisiana), with 86 co-sponsors.

Sen. Feinstein Says ‘No’ to Trust Fund Diversion

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, was more blunt. “My concern is that you will eat up the trust fund with other activities,” she told Ms. Darcy. “The dredging gets done partially, and we have some real impediment to trade and commerce in our country.”

“If you are concerned about depletion of the [HMTF] balance, that can be managed through the appropriations process,” Ms. Darcy told Sen. Feinstein. “It seems to me,” the Senator said, “that keeping these ports viable is really an important mission, and it in itself absorbs all the money.”

After conferring with the subcommittee’s ranking minority member, Sen. Alexander, Sen. Feinstein said, “I think we will have some very strong language in our bill... that money should not be taken from this trust fund for other uses... and I want to say to the Administration that I will do everything I can to prevent that trust fund from being eroded with other activities.”

Trust fund status. During the first six months of this fiscal year, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund took in $773.2 million in revenue, including interest, and transferred $12.5 million to Federal agencies, leaving a trust fund surplus of $6.4 billion. The President’s FY 2012 budget taps the trust fund for only $758.2 million while widespread dredging needs are neglected.

Ports and Harbors Decry Lack of Dredging Funds

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force reported that the President’s dredging budget for FY 2012 “will not spent $1 on 13 Michigan ports that collectively [handle each year] more than 31 million tons of cargo, despite the fact that those tons were taxed and the revenue deposited in the HMTF that bankrolls the government’s dredging program.”

Traffic at Connecticut’s three deep-water ports is declining, and officials say silting-in channels are driving away the largest ships. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) complained at a Senate hearing that the Kennebec River, which has an authorized depth of 27 feet, is now only 19.7 feet deep – too shallow for a Navy warship to leave the Bath Iron Works to sail down the river on its way to Norfolk for commissioning this fall.

Meanwhile, China has announced plans to spend $1.7 billion to deepen the lower Yangtze River from Shanghai to Nanjing, a distance of some 175 miles, to accommodate 50,000-ton vessels. In the U.S., Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed leasing the Ohio Turnpike to China, producing $1 million for infrastructure projects – possibly including, he said, the dredging of Toledo harbor.

Senators Challenge Use of Benefit/Cost Criteria

The current moratorium on Congressional earmarks cropped up repeatedly during recent hearings on Capitol Hill. “How are we able to advance those projects” like small harbors which “are critical issues for us?” asked Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Ms. Darcy: “We look at benefits to the nation... project by project, not state by state.” Sen. Murkowski: “We have got ourselves in a bit of a mess.”

Twenty-six states including Alaska receive O&M funding in the FY 2012 budget, she said, but no construction money. Sen. Murkowski blamed benefit/ cost ratios below the required 2.5-to-1.0 ratio, which she said will “never allow many of these states to ever get into the funding stream.... In terms of what [these projects] contribute to the regional economy, they are extraordinarily important.”

Sen. Landrieu also faulted funding decisions based on the benefit/cost criteria, noting that it short-changed Gulf Coast “energy ports” which import natural gas. It’s weightless, she said, and therefore doesn’t count when adding up port tonnages to compute their national economic benefit.

Court Affirms EPA Veto of Yazoo Pumps Project

Federal District Judge Sharion R. Aycock recently dismissed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s veto of a $220 million flood control project in the Mississippi Delta, but supporters have appealed the ruling. Authorized in 1941, the project would have used huge pumps to drain backwater from farmland and forests in the Yazoo River basin during times of high water.

During the last 14 years, Congress has appropriated about $58 million for the pumps, but OMB has cancelled unobligated balances in the account and Congress has “rescinded” $22 million. Another $7 million was transferred to a proposed Holt Collier Interpretative Center at Rolling Fork, Miss., which is now “on hold.”

Mr. Collier was Pres. Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s guide when he came to the area on a 1902 bear hunt. After dogs chased a bear all night, hunters in the President’s party caught the exhausted bear, tied it to a tree, and summoned the President. He refused to shoot the bear. An accompanying illustrator turned the scene into a cartoon for his newspaper, which gave birth to the still-popular toy Teddy bear.

EPA Stakes Out Role in Federal Water Policy

In a little-noticed section of the FY 2012 Federal budget, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes credit for improving “the way Federal dollars are spent and programs work.” Among other things, EPA claims it “coordinates Federal water policy” through outreach and cooperation, benefitting “numerous actions the Administration has taken to improve national water policy...”

EPA is also involved, the budget document stated, in revising the principles and guidelines for evaluating proposed water resources projects as well as “promoting and funding non-structural and environmentally restorative water projects.”

Another EPA initiative: “Developing a national environmental market infrastructure, supporting regional market innovation, and fostering collaboration around market-based conservation within USDA and across the Federal government.”

Anniversary. Almost exactly 100 years ago, voters approved the creation of the Harris County-Houston Ship Channel Navigation District, which led to the construction of the Houston Ship Channel. It proved to be an economic boon to Houston, which quickly overtook Galveston in population and went on to become the nation’s fourth largest city. w

Current Flood Compared to ‘Rising Tide’ of 1927

The Army Corps of Engineers is fighting the largest flood in the 83-year history of the MR&T project to protect the lives and livelihoods of the Mississippi Valley’s 4 million citizens. Few of them remember the devastation of the 1927 flood which took the lives of up to 500 people, left 500,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 41,000 buildings – a calamity vividly described in John M. Barry’s best-seller, “Rising Tide.”

In addition to the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway near Cairo, Ill., which was activated on May 2, the Corps this week opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway which empties into Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, and may soon utilize the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge to channel water off the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River basin.

Floods typically wash away top soil and carry it down-river to low-lying areas – the process which over centuries created the rich Mississippi Delta. These same sediments also clog river ports and shipping channels, particularly the Southwest Pass at the river’s mouth, a vital passage for ocean-going ships.

Missouri River Study Loses Appropriations

In its final continuing resolution for FY 2011, Congress did not include additional funding for the $25 million Missouri River “authorized purposes” study.

About $7.6 million has already been spent on field work in 2009 and 2010. At a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Max Baucus (Montana) tried to persuade Asst. Army Secy. Darcy to keep the study going, but she said it was never in the President’s budget.

“It is a waste of money to stop it midway,” Sen. Baucus said. “It is my understanding that this study could very well result in different priorities for the Corps on this system because a study would show that it... makes more sense to spend dollars in some areas rather than other areas.” In the Senator’s view, upstream recreation may now be more significant than downstream navigation.

Gen. Bostick Nominated as Engineers’ Next Chief

The President has nominated Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, an Army Deputy Chief of Staff for the last 15 months, as the next Chief of Engineers/Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Senate must confirm him for the position, a process which could take several months.

If confirmed, he will be the second African-American to head the Corps (the first was Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard in 1996-2000), succeeding Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, Chief of Engineers since May 2007, who stepped down last week. Until his successor takes over, Maj. Gen. Merdith W. B. (Bo) Temple, the Deputy Chief of Engineers, will be the Acting Chief.

Gen. Bostick has served almost 33 years in the Corps of Engineers, but none on the civil works side. Other than military assignments, he has been a West Point instructor and assistant professor, a White House Fellow, and executive officer (1993-94) to the then Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Arthur E. Williams.

It’s Transition Time at Corps Headquarters

The retirement of “Gen. Van,” as he is known at Corps headquarters, was marked last week at a dinner attended by some 600 present and former Corps employees and officials. The general’s wife Paula thanked the wives of Corps officers for their work in providing emotional support for the families of soldiers on active duty. Their son Jeff, a major in the U.S. Army, was master of ceremonies.

Gen. and Mrs. Van Antwerp have three sons, who have all served or are serving Army tours, and two daughters. “Retirement is not a word in my vocabulary,” Gen. Van told the dinner audience before announcing that he planned to join the Flippen Group, which is based in College Station, Tex.

It was founded by Flip Flippen, author of the “Flip Side” and other motivational books, who was in the audience. The group, which bills itself as the largest educational trainer in North America, has corporate, sports, education, and government branches. Its personal development sessions attract as many as 200,000 participants annually, the firm says.

Inland Trust Fund Has $76 Million Balance

During the first six months of the current fiscal year – from last October 1 through March 31 – the Inland Waterways Trust Fund had revenues of $37.9 million, including fuel taxes and a meager $38,000 in interest. At this pace, the trust fund could take in approximately $75.9 million during all of FY 2011.

The U.S. Treasury’s latest preliminary report shows outstanding transfer authority available to the Corps of Engineers as of March 31 (resulting from previous appropriations acts) as $15.7 million, leaving an unobligated trust fund balance of $76.2 million – an increase of $38 million over the unobligated balance on last September 30.

This balance, obviously higher than anticipated, could result in additional allocations in the remainder of the current fiscal year or FY 2012 budget for on-going lock-and-dam modernization projects, which were limited in the President’s recent budget request to $154 million – since only $77 million in matching funds for the entire fiscal year were deemed to be available. Through March, Treasury said just $4.5 million had been transferred to the Corps as reimbursement for inland projects.

Greenville Golf Tourney Scheduled Next Month

The 30th annual Jesse Brent/Merrick Jones Memorial Golf Tournament will be held on June 20 at the Greenville (Miss.) Golf and Country Club. This year’s event will honor the life of O. Nelson Jones of Amherst Madison, Inc., who died last July at age 52.

The tournament will be in the format of a six-man scramble with two tee times: 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Donation opportunities: $50 each for patrons, including buffet lunch at 11:30 a.m. and cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 p.m.; $150 each for golfers, including 18 holes of golf with many sports celebrities as well as buffet lunch; $125 for tee-box sponsors; and $2,000 (or more) for benefactors.

The 2010 tourney raised more than $50,000 for the Sallie Astor Burdine Breast Cancer Foundation, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the Seamen’s Church Institute, and National Waterways Foundation.

The tournament was launched after the death of Jesse E. Brent (1912-82) of Brent Towing Co., who the Waterways Journal had named “river person of the century.” The tourney name was changed later to honor another industry leader, J. Merrick Jones, Jr., (1935-2001) of Canal Barge Co. To reserve a place at this year’s tournament, call Jessica Brent at (662) 378-4142 or e-mail her

Foreign Trade Remains Strong at Coastal Ports

U.S. ports continue to report gains in commerce crossing their docks. In 2010, container volume at the Port of New Orleans increased 31 percent as compared to 2009 while Louisiana officials said the state’s worldwide exports last year totaled $41.3 billion in value, the second best year ever and 26.8 percent above the 2009 level.

At Beaumont, cargo tonnage rose 23 percent last year, with a near-record total of 3.5 million tons. In February, Savannah terminals handled 16.3 percent more containers and 51.6 percent more breakbulk shipments than in the same month last year. At nearby Charleston, container volume was up by 7 percent between February 2009 and February 2010.

March figures are just in from the Port of Houston, with 22 percent more ship arrivals, 16 percent more container volume, and steel tonnage up by a whopping 112 percent over the same month last year. Port officials attributed some of the increased container traffic to the arrival during March of two 8,000-TEU ships, the largest ever to call at a Gulf port.

In the Mainstream...

In September, Jerry A. Bridges, executive port director of the Virginia Port Authority, will become chairman of the American Assn. of Port Authorities... Maureen A. Healey, formerly director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Assn., has replaced Rosemary M. Lynch as executive director of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Assn., a position she had held for the last 11 years...

Sean M. Duffy, Sr., of Metairie, La., former president/CEO of the Gulf States Maritime Assn. and its predecessor organizations, is now executive vice president-maritime advocate of the Mississippi River Maritime Assn. and the new coordinator of the Big River Coalition...

Rear Adm. Roy A. Nash, special assistant to the deputy commandant-operations in Coast Guard headquarters, will assume command of the New Orleans-based Eighth Coast Guard District on June 1, succeeding Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, who is retiring. Last year, Adm. Nash was the deputy Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill...

Blank River Services, Inc., of Elizabeth, Pa., has named a towboat after David W. Kreutzer, who was general manager of Consolidation Coal Co.’s river division before he retired in 1999...

The President has nominated Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commander of the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division, to be a member and president of the Mississippi River Commission (MRC) and Rear Adm. Jonathan W. Bailey, director of NOAA’s office of marine and aviation operations, to be a member of the seven-member commission. Note: Legislation pending in the U.S. Senate would remove the requirement for Senate confirmation for some 3,000 Federal positions, including those on the 132-year-old MRC...

Gen. Walsh has been serving as the MRC’s president-designee since he was appointed to his current position in February 2008. Within a few months, however, he expects to be re-assigned to a new position in Washington. Taking his place as commander of the Mississippi Valley Division will be Maj. Gen. John W. Peabody, commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, who will then become the MRC’s next president-designee....

Gary A. Loew, chief of the Corps’ programs integration division since 2005, is retiring. His successor, Mark L. Mazzanti, currently programs director of the Mississippi Valley Division, plans to move to Washington by month’s end to transition into his new job...

The Senate has confirmed the President’s nomination of Rebecca F. Dye, a former counsel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to serve another four-year term on the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and also confirmed, for his first FMC term, Mario S. Cordero, a member and former president of the Long Beach (Calif.) Board of Harbor Commissioners...

Richard D. Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach for the last 14 years, plans to retire at the end of September...

The President has nominated Richard C. Howorth, a former two-term mayor of Oxford, Miss., as a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority, succeeding Howard A. Thrailkill of Huntsville, Ala., whose term expired. Oxford operates an electric utility, which is a TVA customer...

John J. Melancon, Jr., has been elected to succeed his late father on the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. It’s the governing authority of Port Fourchon, a busy port near Grand Isle on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast south of New Orleans serving the oil service industry...

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has named Ananth K. Prasad as secretary of the state’s DOT. A former assistant DOT secretary for engineering and operations, he will oversee some 7,100 employees and an annual budget of $6.9 million...

Col. Stephen L. Hill, USA-Ret., former District Engineer at Pittsburgh and more recently the Corps of Engineers’ Chief of Staff, is now the deputy program manager for the World Trade Center construction project in New York City... Howard P. Stickley, formerly regional business director at the North Atlantic Division, is now with the Transatlantic Division...


“Existing transportation programs do not adequately address goods movement... More than 90 percent of the nation’s busiest seaports require regular maintenance dredging... and critical dredging needs have been neglected. Only a fraction of user fees [paid by port users] are being spent, resulting in increased costs for waterborne transportation, higher prices to consumers, and reduced competitiveness of U.S. exports in the global marketplace...”

– Kurt J. Nagle, president, American Assn. of Port Authorities, at U.S. Grains Council marketing conference, New Orleans, February 8, 2011.

“Developing countries are seeing the opportunity that upgrading their infrastructure can bring, and many are putting higher priority on their infrastructure than we are... Transportation inefficiency devalues grain and causes bottlenecks that back up all the way to the farm gate... We need an attitude adjustment about transportation...”

– Ken A. Eriksen, senior vice president-transportation, Informa Economics, Inc., at the same U.S. Grains Council conference.

“Delaying investment will not make transportation problems go away. Instead, conditions and performance will get worse. Materials, labor, and land will get more expensive and our businesses will be less competitive... Americans are already paying dearly for inferior transportation – through lost productivity, wasted fuel and, tragically, more crashes...”

– Thomas J. Donohue, president/CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, February 16, 2011.

In Memoriam...

Capt. William D. Bowell, 90, of St. Paul, founder of the Padelford Packet Boat Co....

John A. McWilliam, 81, who was chief executive of the Toledo-Lucas County (Ohio) Port Authority (1972-89)...

Richard J. Goodman, 79, a former vice president for government affairs for Continental Grain Co. (1976-93)...

Thomas E. Erickson, 55, of Paducah, a founding member and executive vice president of Marquette Transportation Co.... To their families and many friends, we extend our condolences.

Cornel Martin Leaving as WCI Chief Executive

It was announced last week that Cornel J. Martin, president and CEO of the Waterways Council, Inc., since 2008, will be leaving our organization at the end of June to pursue other interests. He thanked WCI members “for having given me the opportunity to return to Washington, D.C., to make a difference and a positive contribution to an industry that I have been a part of my entire life...”

WCI’s chairman, Richard R. (Rick) Calhoun of Cargill, Inc., praised Mr. Martin as “instrumental in the development of a savvy media and publicity campaign, in the creation of the coalition of stakeholders and partners for the capital development plan, and in the execution of several successful WCI symposia and seminars.”

Mr. Martin previously worked on the American Waterways Operators’ staff, serving as vice president of AWO’s Southern region; as a senior executive of the New Orleans-based Delta Queen Steamboat Co.; and as chairman of a family business serving the shipbuilding industry.

‘Marine Highways’ Need Federal Help to Succeed

“It has become increasingly evident that the current system of freight transportation in the U.S. will be hard-pressed to meet the nation’s future transportation needs,” concluded a new U.S. Maritime Administration report. It wants to shift more freight, particularly containers, to “marine highways,” our network of coastal and inland waterways.

“Shippers who have access to more than one competitive long-distance modal service may experience lower shipping rates than do shippers who have access to only one suitable long-distance mode,” the report said. But the waterway mode also has a down-side:

“Many of the important public benefits of water transportation – congestion reduction, environmental sustainability, and system resiliency – cannot be captured in the form of higher revenues or lower costs...,” the report said. Its conclusion: “Government action is required to help overcome these challenges and assist the expansion of marine highway services...”

Largest container ports. The world’s busiest are all in Asia, according to Containerisation International Yearbook. Based on TEU throughput in 2009, the yearbook reported the five leading ports in this order:

Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen (about 25 miles north of Hong Kong), and Pusan, South Korea. Top U.S. ports: Los Angeles (16th), Long Beach (18th), and New York/New Jersey (20th).

On the Horizon...

May 12-13, Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Assn., Point Clear, Ala.... May 18, Upper Monongahela River Assn., Morgantown...

May 23-27, International Assn. of Ports and Harbors, Busan, Korea... June 9, Seamen’s Church Institute’s Silver Bell Awards dinner (honoring Adm. Thad W. Allen, USCG-Ret., former Coast Guard commandant), New York... June 15-17, Texas Water Conservation Assn., Galveston...

June 18-19, Great Rivers Towboat Festival, Grafton, Ill.... June 20, Jesse Brent/Merrick Jones Memorial Golf Tournament (honoring the late O. Nelson Jones of Amherst Madison, Inc.), Greenville, Miss.... July 10-13, Transportation Research Board’s joint summer meeting, Boston...

Aug. 10-12, Gulf Intracoastal Canal Assn., New Orleans... Aug. 30-Sept. 2, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Opportunities Conference, Point Clear, Ala.... Sept. 11-14, National Coal Transportation Assn., Denver...

Sept. 11-15, AAPA annual meeting, Seattle... Sept. 13-16, SmartRivers Conference, New Orleans... Sept. 19-24, World Canals Conference, Groningen, The Netherlands...

Sept. 19-21, National Waterways Conference, Fort Worth...Oct. 5-7, AWO fall convention, New York... Oct. 12-14, Pacific Northwest Waterways Assn., Portland... Oct. 19-21, WCI Annual Meeting and Waterways Symposium, Omni William Penn Hotel, Pittsburgh... Oct. 18-21, International Propeller Club of U.S., La Havre, France...

Nov. 11-16, NITL annual meeting and exposition, Atlanta... Nov. 17-19, Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways Assn., Wrightsville Beach, N.C.... Nov. 30-Dec. 1, International WorkBoat Show, New Orleans... Dec. 8, Seamen’s Church Institute’s River Bell Awards luncheon, Paducah...

Dec. 8-10, Mississippi Valley Flood Control Assn., New Orleans... Oct. 22-25, 2012, Dredging 2012 (PIANC/ASCE/ COPRI), San Diego...


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Harry N. Cook, Editor

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With an absolutely straight face, Rand Paul in this exchange compares public health care to slavery. He says that if everyone has a right to health care, that means that people can come to his office – Rand is a doctor, after all – and “conscript” him to provide service. Bernie’s response to Paul is amusing, but there’s one other aspect of this whole scene that to me is worth pointing out. Tea Partiers like Paul have an incredible characteristic; they are absolutely obsessed with fantasies of victimhood and discrimination. You will seldom see them pass up an opportunity to describe themselves as repressed minorities. Most white people with shame will tend to avoid describing the condition of being a rich yuppie doctor whose parents put him through school as “slavery” – not Rand Paul. It’s the same way Glenn Beck compared having health care passed to being blasted with water hoses, eveninvoking pictures of sixties anti-black outrages to describe the plight of modern opponents to health care… if you can listen to this stuff and not piss yourself with shame, you have a serious problem.

Paul and Beck are absolute wakos... Monte

Are All Religions Equally Crazy?

Are less established religions really crazier than older mainstream ones? Or are mainstream religions just more familiar?
May 9, 2011
Does any religion make more sense than any other?
Atheists, by definition, don't think any religion has any reasonable likelihood of being true. And yet, for some weird reason, we're often asked to choose between them. Believers often accuse us of ignoring more moderate and progressive religions while we trash the low-hanging fruit of hard-line fundamentalism. We're accused of disregarding sophisticated modern theology so we can zero in on the simplistic faiths held by the hoi polloi. (Neither accusation is fair; many atheists, including myself, have taken aim at both modern theology and progressive religion, and in any case fundamentalism and other widely held religions are valid targets for critique -- but that's another rant.) Yet at the same time, many believers seek our approval for their particular beliefs. "Sure," they'll say, "a lot of those other religions are silly -- but my religion makes sense! Don't you agree? Don't you? Huh?"
For the most part, it's a game I don't like to play. I think all religions are equally implausible, equally based on cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. But sometimes, the battiness of a particular religion is powerfully borne in on me, to the point where it becomes impossible to ignore. And it forces me to consider the question: Is this religion really any more batty than any other? Or is it just less popular? Less familiar? Is it simply newer, and thus has had less time for the more wildly ragged edges of its wackiness to smooth out? Is this religion really as crazy as it seems -- or are all religions equally crazy?
Magic Hats Versus Magic Snakes
First, just to be very clear: I'm not saying all religious believers are crazy. I'm saying religious beliefs are crazy. I'm criticizing the ideas, not the people. And when I say "crazy" (or "nutty" or "batshit" or "lunatic" or what have you), I don't mean "literally, clinically mentally ill." I mean "crazy" in the colloquial sense -- radically out of step with cultural norms, or out of touch with reality.
I was in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago giving a talk, and I took the opportunity to visit the Mormon Temple Square. If you're not a Mormon, you can't go inside the Mormon Temple itself; but Temple Square has all sorts of attractions for the non-Mormon visitor, including the tabernacle, the assembly hall... and two different visitors' centers, specifically designed to explain Mormonism to the non-Mormon, and to make the religion seem inspiring, and to entice people into the faith.
I have no doubt that it has that effect on many people. Mormonism is one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet; there must be something about it that people like. But its effect on me... Well, it was inspiring, all right. It inspired me right into a roller-coaster ride of hilarity and horror. It inspired me, at one point, to out-loud laughter that I was literally, physically unable to control. It inspired me to get the hell off their property, take several deep breaths, and rant with my wife about what a nightmare of indoctrination and brainwashing it was, before we plunged back in. It inspired me to work on my atheist activism ten times harder than I ever had.
But then I started thinking.
How much crazier is this, really, than any other religion?
Let's not mince words. There is some profoundly crazy stuff in Mormonism. The magic underwear. The retroactive baptism of the dead. Getting to be a god on your own planet after you die. The Garden of Eden being in Missouri. The foundational story of Joseph Smith reading secret magical golden plates through a magic hat. The baptismal font sitting on the backs of 12 cows. (Okay, fine, oxen. Still.) The washings and anointings and veils and temple garments and secret handshakes and other highly ritualized pseudo-Masonic ceremonies. Lying for the Lord. (No, really. Look it up.) The casual shrugging-off of well-known, thoroughly documented facts of history and archaeology that contradict Church doctrine. The shameless, barefaced retroactive continuity, to the point of actually lying about the religion's history. ("Polygamy is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Racial bigotry is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Stop looking at the Book of Mormon. No, stop it. We'll tell you what our religion says, thank you very much.") Mormonism loves to present a wholesome, clean-cut image of almost obsessive normality to the public... but when you scratch the surface, what you see is howling, chaotic lunacy. That assessment may seem harsh -- but if these ideas were presented in any context other than a religious one, nobody would be debating it.
But then I started thinking:
How much crazier is this than any other religion?
How much crazier is this than talking snakes? People living inside giant fish? Boats that carry two of every living creature on the planet? Magic crackers that turn into the body of your god when you eat them? Magic fruit that ruins the lives of all your descendants? Virgins giving birth? Sprinkling magic water on babies so if they die they won't burn forever in Hell? A planet that was created 6,000 years ago, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary from every relevant scientific field? A god who sacrifices himself to himself to save the world from the punishment he himself was planning to dole out?
And let's not just pick on Christianity. How much crazier is this than ritual washing in a polluted magic river? Transferring your sins to a live chicken, waving it over your head, and having it slaughtered? Transferring your sins to a bundle of money, waving it over your head, and donating the money to charity, because the chicken thing is just too weird? The compulsory covering of women's bodies from head to toe? The compulsory wearing of hats? A god who's okay with you smoking weed, but doesn't want you drinking alcohol? A god who's okay with you drinking alcohol, but doesn't want you smoking weed? A god who doesn't want you to draw pictures of real things? A god who wants you to cut off your daughter's clitoris? A god who wants you to cut off the tip of your baby boy's penis?
Plenty of religions are loaded with crazy when you scratch the surface. You don't even have to scratch very hard.
So why do these older, more mainstream religions seem less crazy?
A lot of it, I think, is popularity. If lots of people believe something, we're more likely to give it credibility. This is a bias that all human brains are vulnerable to, and it's largely unconscious. (Although many religious believers will make this argument consciously and overtly. Spend enough time in the atheist blogosphere, and I guarantee you'll see it pop up: "How can you dismiss something that so many people believe in?") We're social animals, and we're wired to think that if everyone else thinks something, it's probably true. Or at the very least, that it's not batshit insane on the face of it, and we ought to give it serious consideration.
From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, this bias makes sense. Other people can, in fact, be a useful reality check: if everyone in your tribe is screaming "Tiger!" and you don't see one, it still makes sense to run. But it's a confounding bias to contend with when you're rigorously examining a truth claim. It makes it hard to voice unpopular perceptions... and indeed even to conceive of them. It's very, very difficult to be the first person to say out loud, "The Emperor has no clothes." It's even more difficult to say it to ourselves.
Then adding to this de-crazification phenomenon, we have the power of time. In the earlier days of a religion, the battier elements are much more prominent. But with time, if a religion flourishes and becomes more mainstream, the rough edges get smoothed off. "Our Savior is returning within a generation" turns into "Our Savior is returning one of these days." "You have to wear a ginormous hat all the time" turns into "It'd be nice if you wore a little hat in the temple." "God created the entire universe out of nothing in six days" turns into "God created matter and energy and the laws of physics and let them unfold into life as we know it, and when we say 'day' we don't mean a literal 'day,' and it's absurd and unfair for you to think that we do." The battier elements get abandoned entirely, or get hidden out of sight, or get shoved to the back burner as trivial and peripheral, or start being seen as metaphorical instead of literal. (45 percent of all U.S. Catholicsdon't even know that, according to the doctrine of their own Catholic Church, the magic cracker literally becomes the body of their god when they eat it. They think it's symbolic. They apparently weren't paying attention in catechism class.)
The fascinating thing about Mormonism is that we can see this process happening in real time. As a religion founded within the last two centuries, during a time of good historical record-keeping, Mormonism is an intriguing case study of how a religion transforms from a despised fringe cult to a popular branch of mainstream modern faith. And part of that picture is the ways that the fringier elements have either been abandoned wholesale or kept out of the public eye. .. and indeed kept out of the eyes of its own adherents until they've already bought in. (Mormonism even has a "milk before meat" concept: teach the easy, non-controversial stuff about Mormonism first, and wait to teach the batty stuff until adherents are too deeply invested to leave.) The degree to which Mormonism has become mainstream is the degree to which the less digestible nuts have been eliminated from the fruitcake.
But most of this phenomenon, I think, is simple familiarity.
I didn't learn about magic Mormon underwear until I was an adult. So when I did, the battiness of the belief smacked me in the face. I was like, "Really? Magic underwear? Really?" And the same was true for the magic hat, and the secret handshakes, and the Garden of Eden being in Missouri, and so on and so on. Every time I learn something new about Mormonism and Mormon history, it's... well, it's new. And I can see its craziness with fresh eyes.
But I've known about magic crackers and talking snakes since I was very young. So they just seemed normal. Part of the cultural landscape. I didn't believe in them -- but for years, I didn't think about them very hard. And again, because these beliefs were widely held, when I did think about them I gave them more credit than they actually deserved.
So is it fair to think that Mormonism -- or Jehovah's Witnesses, or Scientology, or any other relatively new religion -- is really any crazier than more mainstream religions? Is it fair to think that it's crazier than the mainstream varieties of Catholicism or Baptism, Hinduism or Buddhism, Judaism or Islam?
I spent my day at Temple Square going back and forth on this question. One minute, I'd be thinking, "Well, okay, this is pretty nuts... but it's not really any crazier than magic crackers and magic snakes." The next minute, I'd be confronted with some new form of wacko, and I'd be thinking, "No, this really is crazier."
So which is it?
I think the answer depends on what exactly we mean by "crazy."
Crazy Is as Crazy Does
Like I said earlier, when I say "crazy" here, I don't mean "mentally ill." I mean... well, what, exactly?
If by "crazy" we mean "out of step with cultural norms"... then yes, Mormonism really is crazier. Pretty much by definition. To some extent, battiness and reasonableness are defined by social norms. In the Victorian era, it was considered entirely normal for women to wear tightly-laced corsets, all day, every day of their adult lives, to the point where their physical functioning was seriously impaired and their internal organs were deformed. In modern society, doing this would generally be considered pretty damn freaky. Instead, many women in modern society wear high-heeled shoes that impair their functioning and deform their feet, all day, every day of their adult lives... and this is considered standard, non-crazy behavior. So yes, by this definition, the more mainstream a religion is, the less crazy it is. And so yes, by this definition, Mormonism is crazier than, say, Catholicism.
But if what you mean by "crazy" is "out of touch with reality"?
Then it's all equally crazy.
Any belief in a supernatural world that affects the natural one is equally implausible, equally the product of cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence. Some religions contradict reality quite blatantly, flatly stating that well-established historical and scientific facts aren't true. (Young-earth Creationism does this with basic facts of evolution; Mormonism does it with basic facts of human history.) Other religions do a better job of presenting a plausible face and shoehorning their beliefs around reality. (The standard progressive Christian belief in theistic evolution is Exhibit A. Theistic evolution is entirely inconsistent with even the most basic facts of evolution, but these believers can still convincingly tell themselves and others, "No, no, we think science is great, of course we accept evolution, we're not out of touch with reality.")
But all religions are out of touch with reality. All religions are implausible, based on cognitive biases, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. All of them ultimately rely on faith -- i.e., an irrational attachment to a pre-existing idea regardless of any evidence that contradicts it -- as the core foundation of their belief. All of them contort, ignore, or deny reality in order to maintain their attachment to their faith.
And by that definition, all religions are equally crazy.
Some just hide their craziness better than others.
Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

America's Largest Newspaper Launches a Nasty Attack on Grandma and Grandpa

The Rupert Murdoch-owned, right-wing Wall Street Journal is lying, plain and simple.

It was apparent in Ronald Reagan's “welfare queen” rhetoric, and also in the ubiquitous references to “young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with their food-stamps. Now the Right's using the exact same play for those greedy public employees supposedly living large on their fat salaries.The conservative playbook isn't difficult to decipher. They rely heavily on the politics of resentment – point to someone in our society, claim they're a lucky-duck using unverifiable anecdotes or cherry-picked data, and then urge people to ask, "Why does that person have it so good when I'm busting my ass to make ends meet?"
This week, the Wall Street Journal featured an excellent example of the genre by John Cogan, a fellow at the corporate-backed Hoover Institution. The piece, titled, “The Millionaire Retirees Next Door,” is a shining testament to the dishonesty surrounding our discourse on “entitlements.”
Cogan's pitch is this: “The typical husband and wife who reach age 66 and qualify for Social Security ... will begin collecting a combination of cash and health-care entitlement benefits that will total $1 million over their remaining expected lifetime.” They'll get an average of $1 million in cash and health-care bennies over the rest of their lives, which makes them millionaires! Why aren't you?
What's more, “The typical 66-year-old couple and their employers, on their behalf, have contributed nearly $500,000 in payroll taxes.” In other words, they're going to pull in a half-million more than they paid! “We cannot even remotely afford to make good on these promised benefits ...[to] so many million-dollar couples,” he writes. “The benefactors will be a generation of younger workers who are trying to support themselves and their families while paying taxes to finance the rest of government spending.” Won't somebody think of the children?
All of this, Cogan says, is according to his own calculations based on government data. It's all wrong, however, and while it's often difficult to say with any certainty whether someone is intentionally lying to people or simply making an honest error, in this case it's clear.
Cogan's sleight of hand is simple: when he gives the amount this average couple paid into the two programs, he adjusts for inflation to current dollars. On the benefits side, he doesn't – he uses future dollars, which results in a larger number. John Cogan is a professor of public policy at Stanford University; every one of his students knows that he or she would get an F comparing inflation adjusted numbers on one side of the ledger to nominal dollars on the other – it's apples and oranges and it's about as mendacious as one can get.
He tries a similar trick with this grievance:
In 1978, Congress instituted automatic cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security. That's reasonable. But Social Security's method of automatically increasing benefits to successive cohorts of retirees by more than inflation makes less sense. It means that the average worker who retires this year receives a monthly benefit that is about 23% higher after adjusting for inflation than the monthly benefit received by the average worker who retired 20 years ago. The average worker who retires 10 years from now is, in turn, promised an initial benefit at retirement that is 14% higher after adjusting for inflation than the average worker who retires today.
Congress passed an automatic cost-of-living increase in 1972, not 1978. COLA is based on the rate of inflation, so benefits aren't “automatically” increased faster than the rate of inflation. The reason retirees today will take home larger benefits than those who left the workforce 20 years ago reflects the higher wages they earned. The same is true of those who will retire 10 years from now.
Let's pause for a reality check. It's true that, according to the Urban Institute(which adjusts for inflation), Cogan's average two-earner couple will receive $882,000 in combined benefits over their golden years. But we need to disaggregate that figure; the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees this year is $1,179 per month. Multiply that by two, and you don't exactly end up with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Of course, it doesn't matter what an “average” two-earner household pays in and takes out; lots of families aren't average, and the only thing that matters is the system's overall solvency. And the Social Security administration has taken in more than it's paid out for all but two of the last 30 years. It's run significant surpluses, and hasn't added a single penny to the deficit. This year's surplus is projected to be $113 billion.
Cogan says we “can't afford” these benefits. But in the United States, while people who work until age 65 will see only 40 percent of their incomes replaced by Social Security, the average replacement rate among the 31 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the “rich countries club” – is 57 percent. The U.S. ranks 27th out of 31 in that measure, and by 2030, the average income replaced by Social Security will fall to 32 percent. Cogan never bothers to explain why we “can't afford” benefits that are far stingier than those enjoyed by the citizens of Portugal, the Slovak Republic or Poland – all countries with significantly less wealth than we have.
While Social Security's finances are sound and will remain so for the foreseeable future (and possibly forever), Medicare is a different story, which is why mendacious granny-bashers always conflate the two programs.
Like every corporation in America that offers its employees private health insurance, Medicare faces spiraling costs. But despite an aging population adding a lot more beneficiaries, health-care costs have grown significantly slower in the Medicare system than it has in the private sector over the life of the program, as this data from the Congressional Budget Office illustrates:
Click for larger version (click for larger version)
Cogan paints the rise in costs as a product of feckless politicians bowing to their greedy and all-powerful constituents. He complains that “Medicare premiums paid by senior citizens once covered half of the cost of physician and related services. They now cover one-fourth. Copayments once covered nearly 40% of these services' costs. They now cover only 20%.” Premiums haven't decreased; the smaller share reflects the fact that a good portion of those rising costs haven't been passed on to seniors.
Cogan wants to do something about that. Rather than offer suggestions for getting health-care costs under control, he proposes shifting them onto the backs of grandma and grandpa.
To fix Medicare, we must move away from the current system of fee-for-services and low copayments. First and foremost, copayments should be increased significantly. Medicare recipients need to have more skin in the game if they are to become cost-conscious medical consumers.
The proposal echoes the GOP's budget plan, under which the Congressional Budget Office says seniors would end up paying almost twice as much out of their own pockets even while the total cost of insurance would end up being higher.
The idea is based on some old-fashioned right-wing boilerplate – turn patients into “consumers,” and the free-market fairies will lower health-care costs with their magic pixie dust. But as Paul Krugman noted, the notion of the savvy consumer falls apart because making health-care “decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge.”
Furthermore, those decisions often must be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping....
The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just “providers” selling services to health care “consumers” — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.
Ultimately, these are just the details. The really big lie is a simple bait-and-switch: we face high deficits, which Cogan and a legion of his fellow conservatives desperately want you to believe is the result of crazy politicians handing out fat checks to everyone and their cousin. The reality, of course, is very different.
Here's a picture that tells a 1,000 words about the true causes of our deficit – please note the absence of Social Security or Medicare.
Click for larger version (click for larger version)

May 11, 2011

Iowa State's role in the future of biofuels | The Des Moines Register |

Ames, Ia. - Prototypes of the biofuels refinery of the future sit in a 19,000-square-foot complex on the Iowa State Research Farm west of Ames. Two experimental plants, whose network of pipes and containers looks to the lay person like a microbrewery on steroids, produce oil from biomass such as corn stover, switchgrass, miscanthus, wood chips and algae. One plant produces biocrude through a form of incineration called pyrolysis, which heats biomass to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in an oxygen-free environment and then decomposes the biomass to vapors and aerosols.

Rapid cooling then turns the vapors into bio-oil, which eventually could be refined into a fuel. Director Robert Brown of the Iowa State University Bioeconomy Institute likens pyrolysis to "taking the white smoke from a campfire, driving out particulates and separating different molecules to make bio-oil." The second prototype is a gasification plant, a process by which heat of up to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit breaks down the biomass to its most basic elements to produce a synthetic gas.

A steam process turns the biomass into a synthetic gas. An interesting byproduct is the carbon waste, or "biochar" that drops out of the gasification process. "Biochar turns out to have value as a fertilizer," Brown said, and helps keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere. The pyrolysis and gasification plants already have produced a variety of oils - some of which smell distinctly like barbecue sauce. Brown and his team are analyzing and experimenting for their potential as fuels for boilers, power plants, internal combustion engines and gas-turbine engines.
Corn ethanol was easy; next step much harder

The $23 million project was kicked off by a grant in 2007 from ConocoPhillips and aided by money from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy as well as Dupont (owner of Pioneer Hi-Bred) and Danisco. "What makes this facility one of a kind is that it isn't limited to a single biomass, but can take all biomass products for conversion to fuels," Brown said. When will the ISU labs produce a finished fuel? "You tell me the price of oil," Brown responds.

Brown's statement reflects the long experience of alternative energy: interest and research surge when oil prices rise. With oil prices near $100, prospects look good for a speedup in Brown's operation. Brown said the goal is to produce a usable biofuel by 2022. Brown asserts that the public has been given a somewhat misleading picture of biofuels by the explosive growth of traditional ethanol. It grew from less than 1 billion gallons of annual production in the middle of the last decade to almost 14 billion gallons this year, or 10 percent of U.S. annual gasoline consumption.

"Remember, it's taken us 40 years to get corn-fed ethanol up to 13 billion gallons of production annually," Brown said. "And that was with a technology that was long proven." Corn-fed ethanol production is a larger version of the backwoods corn fermentation process perfected long ago by moonshiners. "That was relatively easy," said Brown. "The next step will be harder." The challenge is daunting and the science yet incomplete. But Brown notes one advantage biomass fuels have over ethanol.

"Biomass can be made into oil in about five minutes," he said. "It takes to two days to ferment corn into ethanol." But moving to the next generation of biofuels depends in part on collecting enough biomass, and Iowa has plenty of corn stover - the cobs, leaves and stalks left behind after harvest.
Stover has logisticial, chemical challenges

Several experiments already have been conducted on Iowa cornfields to bale tons of stover for delivery to ethanol plants. The process requires special equipment and storage, and suffers from seasonality. Stover is most prevalent in October and November upon harvest and should be picked up immediately. There is another problem with stover beyond logistics. "Chemically, stover is tough because it's dirty," said Brown. "Stover picked up off the ground needs to be cleaned. The best way to harvest stover is to figure out a way to collect it without it hitting the ground."

Also, chemicals in the stover, such as nitrogen and potassium that make it so valuable as a soil additive, complicate the chemical process when stover is fed into Brown's biofuels makers. To clean up the corn stover, ISU scientists are investigating a process called hot vapor filtration. "The challenge we face is to remove those chemicals from the oil so that they don't dirty, so to speak, the fuel that ultimately is produced," Brown said.

How biofuels compare

CORN ETHANOL PROS: Lowest-cost biofuel. Producers are making improvements in efficiently. CONS: Ethanol is fast reaching market saturation at the current amounts at which it is added to gasoline. Ethanol has a lower energy content than gasoline and at higher levels can damage pumps and pollution-control equipment. Ethanol production also plays a role in increasing the the price of corn and the cost to consumers of meat and dairy products. Ethanol must be mixed with gasoline in cars. CELLULOSIC ETHANOL PROS: Can be made from a variety of feedstocks that aren’t used for food: crop residue, grasses and trees. CONS: Has the same drawbacks as corn ethanol and is more costly to produce. Cellulosic biorefineries would cost many times as much to build as corn ethanol plants. RENEWABLE GASOLINE, DIESEL AND JET FUEL PROS: Can be used just like conventional fuels and made from celluose as well as algae as well as from crops such as sugar cane. Renewable diesel already can be made from animal fats. CONS: Steep production and conversion costs.

Resarch farm is

The more exacting research is done on the northwest side of the ISU campus at the new $32 million state-funded biofuels research center. There, director Robert Brown brings together an intellectual dream team from ISU's engineering (chemical, mechanical, agricultural), chemistry, economics, agronomy, biology.

THE CHALLENGE The challenge is nothing less than to produce a fuel that will do for the 21st century what refined petroleum gasoline did for the world in the 20th century. Crude petroleum has proved difficult to dislodge as the premier transportation fuel because of its power and efficiency. Ethanol has only about two-thirds the heat, or energy-producing power, of conventional fossil fuels. THE PROBLEM A fundamental problem for any bio-oil is that it contains about 25 percent water, where fossil oil contains none. That means the flame from biooils will burn at different temperatures, which in turn requires different designs on combustion chambers and injection systems in engines. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT The most optimistic forecasts for biofuels show petroleum distillates still providing up to three-quarters of transportation energy by the middle of this century. But Brown reminds that crude oil once didn't burn efficiently. "When crude oil was first refined more than a century ago, it produced only about 2 percent of its total potential energy efficiency," Brown said. His labs are producing biofuels at 40 percent of its potential efficiency, he said. "The next 60 percent will be hard. But we can get there." - Dan Piller

How to tell when someone is lying | Science Blog

When someone is acting suspiciously at an airport, subway station or other public space, how can law enforcement officers determine whether he’s up to no good?

The ability to effectively detect deception is crucial to public safety, particularly in the wake of renewed threats against the U.S. following the killing of Osama bin Laden.

UCLA professor of psychology R. Edward Geiselman has been studying these questions for years and has taught investigative interviewing techniques to detectives and intelligence officers from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Marines, the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments, and numerous international agencies.

He and three former UCLA undergraduates — Sandra Elmgren, Chris Green and Ida Rystad —analyzed some 60 studies on detecting deception and have conducted original research on the subject. They present their findings and their guidance for how to conduct effective training programs for detecting deception in the current (April) issue of the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, which is published this week.

Geiselman and his colleagues have identified several indicators that a person is being deceptive. The more reliable red flags that indicate deceit, Geiselman said, include:

• When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible. Geiselman initially thought they would tell an elaborate story, but the vast majority give only the bare-bones. Studies with college students, as well as prisoners, show this. Geiselman’s investigative interviewing techniques are designed to get people to talk.

• Although deceptive people do not say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.

• They tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.

• They often monitor the listener’s reaction to what they are saying. “They try to read you to see if you are buying their story,” Geiselman said.

• They often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight “will spew it out faster,” Geiselman said. Truthful people are not bothered if they speak slowly, but deceptive people often think slowing their speech down may look suspicious. “Truthful people will not dramatically alter their speech rate within a single sentence,” he said.

• They tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.

• They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other “grooming” behaviors. Gesturing toward one’s self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.

• Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.

• When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.

If dishonest people try to mask these normal reactions to lying, they would be even more obvious, Geiselman said. Among the techniques he teaches to enable detectives to tell the truth from lies are:

• Have people tell their story backwards, starting at the end and systematically working their way back. Instruct them to be as complete and detailed as they can. This technique, part of a “cognitive interview” Geiselman co-developed with Ronald Fisher, a former UCLA psychologist now at Florida International University, “increases the cognitive load to push them over the edge.” A deceptive person, even a “professional liar,” is “under a heavy cognitive load” as he tries to stick to his story while monitoring your reaction.• Ask open-ended questions to get them to provide as many details and as much complete information as possible (“Can you tell me more about…?” “Tell me exactly…”). First ask general questions, and only then get more specific.

Don’t interrupt, let them talk and use silent pauses to encourage them to talk.

If someone in an airport or other public space is behaving suspiciously and when approached exhibits a majority of the more reliable red flags, Geiselman recommends pulling him or her aside for more questioning. If there are only one or two red flags, he would probably let them go.

Geiselman tested techniques for telling the truth from deception with hundreds of UCLA students, and the studies he and his co-authors analyzed involved thousands of people.

Detecting deception is difficult, Geiselman said, but training programs can be effective. Programs must be extensive, with an education phase followed by numerous video examples, and a phase in which those being trained judge video clips and simulate real-world interviewing. Training should be conducted on multiple days over a period of a week or two.

“People can learn to perform better at detecting deception,” Geiselman said. “However, police departments usually do not provide more than a day of training for their detectives, if that, and the available research shows that you can’t improve much in just a day.”

When Geiselman conducted training with Marine intelligence officers, he found that they were impressively accurate in detecting deception even before the training began. In contrast, the average college student is only 53 percent accurate without training, and with abbreviated training, “we often make them worse,” he said.

“Without training, many people think they can detect deception, but their perceptions are unrelated to their actual ability. Quick, inadequate training sessions lead people to over-analyze and to do worse than if they go with their gut reactions.”

Geiselman is currently developing a training program that he hopes will effectively compress the learning curve and thus will serve to replicate years of experience.

The cognitive interview that Geiselman and Fisher developed works well with both criminal suspects and eyewitnesses of crimes. Geiselman thinks these techniques are likely to work in non-crime settings as well, but said additional research should be done in this area.

In the next year, Geiselman plans to teach police detectives techniques for investigative interviewing and spotting deception through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Rural Policing Institute for underserved police departments. He says this will be a perfect fit for him because he comes from Culver, Ind., a small town that has fewer residents than UCLA has psychology majors.

Later this month, Geiselman will travel to Hong Kong to provide training in investigative interviewing to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

An instructional course Geiselman taught on investigative interviewing before the second Iraq war resulted in cognitive interviewing techniques that were used to interdict some insurgent activity in Iraq, perhaps saving many lives, he was later informed.

Geiselman also has worked with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on effective techniques for interviewing children who may have been molested and has interviewed crime victims for police departments around the country in murder cases gone cold. His research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

UCLA is California’s largest university, with an enrollment of more than 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university’s 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 328 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.