Feds Spend Over $500 Million to Aid Barges Shipping Coal

(p. B1) CHARLEROI, Pa.–A few years ago, coal barges lined up 20 or 30 deep, waiting their turn for a towboat to shuttle them through the locks near this town along the Monongahela River.
These days it is the towboats that often sit idle. Cheap natural gas, stricter power-plant-emissions rules and a weak steel market have gutted coal demand, and with it traffic on the rivers that have served as the industry’s commercial arteries for over a century.
Nevertheless, river infrastructure is about to be flooded with federal cash. In December, Congress authorized $405 million to improve river locks and dams over the next fiscal year, the most since 2008.
The money follows a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort spearheaded by the Waterways Council Inc., which represents an array of companies including coal producer Murray Energy Corp., utility FirstEnergy Corp., agricultural-commodities trader Cargill Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp.
. . .
“It’s kind of ironic–we’re spending even more to update and modernize this system when the value and volume of the commodities is diminishing, and coal is something that we as a country are moving away from,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a conservative-leaning advocacy group that analyzes infrastructure spending.

For the full story, see:
ROBBIE WHELAN. “Barges Get a Boost, Even as Demand Sinks.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016): B1 & B7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2016, and has the title “U.S. Opens Spigot for Lock-and-Dam Fixes, Even as Coal Traffic Dwindles.”)

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