Irony Alert: American Petroleum Institute Calls For Obama To Aid ‘Economic Catastrophe’ Due To Warming-Fueled Drought

by Katie Valentine

This summer’s historic drought hasn’t let up (in fact, it’s actually expanding in some areas) and it’s causing a lot of trouble in regions whose economies are driven by major bodies of water.

The drought, coupled with a seasonal dry period, has caused water levels on the Mississippi River to fall to near-record lows, which has hurt the Mississippi shipping industry badly. If water isn’t replenished soon (which doesn’t look likely, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center), the major waterway may be closed to cargo companies in the coming weeks. Right now, the river is about 13 feet deep in many places, which is 15 to 20 feet lower than normal. If it dips to around 9 feet – which National Weather Service hydrologists predict could happen by Dec. 9 – protruding rocks will make it nearly impossible for barges to pass. A closed Mississippi – or even closed portions – would mean companies would have to find other ways of shipping crops, fuel and other goods throughout the country.

These conditions have caused many members of congress and the business community to call on President Barack Obama to help Mississippi River shipping businesses get back to normal. They want the president to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dynamite the rocky riverbed near two southern Illinois towns – Thebes and Grand Tower – to deepen the shipping channel, allowing ships to pass through on less water. They also want the Corps to stop reducing water flow from a Missouri River reservoir, which the Corps does each year to conserve water for the spring. Members of congress have sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and spoken out about the issue, and on Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups and organizations sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to declare emergency in the region and calling for “immediate assistance in averting an economic catastrophe in the heartland.”

Ironically, many of these organizations have refused to acknowledge a growing problem behind the Mississippi’s water woes. Climate change will impact water levels in the U.S. for years to come: science has shown that a warming earth will likely lead to more frequent and more intense droughts like the one the U.S. is experiencing now.

“The drought that we are currently experiencing is consistent with an observed warmer climate,” said a group of Iowa scientists in a group statement earlier this month.

But these organizations actively fight against climate policy: the Chamber of Commerce, API and the National Association of Manufacturers were three of the major opponents of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations. In a statement on behalf of API and several other groups, National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons called the final regulations “devastating” and “a setback for businesses.” Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue has had little regard for the dangers of climate change during his tenure; in January of this year, he called for expanded fracking, shale oil, and tar sands development in the U.S., saying that the country needs to use the hundreds of billions of tons of fossil fuels it contains under its surface.

The Mississippi River isn’t the only body of water that’s still being affected by the drought. The Great Lakes are also losing water: levels have fallen to near-record lows in Lakes Michigan and Huron, and water levels in Lakes Erie, Ontario and Superior are below average. Like on the Mississippi, shipping is a major industry in the Great Lakes region, and water levels have a major effect on its success.

Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of water depth between this year and last means a 1,000-foot vessel is carrying about 1,200 to 1,500 fewer tons per load. The drought is also affecting other industries in the Great Lakes: low water levels in some places are causing marinas to be too shallow for boat docking, with the Army Corps of Engineers estimating that about 30 Great Lakes harbors will need attention in the next couple of years.

A recent Center for American Progress report, “Heavy Weather” indicates that droughts and heat waves in 2011-12 alone will cost the U.S. $40 to $88 billion. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground reports that the damages could be as high as $150 billion.

With water levels down in many of America’s major waterways, it looks like the costs of this year’s drought will only increase.

Katie Valentine graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism. She is currently an intern on the international policy team at the Center for American Progress.

12 Responses to Irony Alert: American Petroleum Institute Calls For Obama To Aid ‘Economic Catastrophe’ Due To Warming-Fueled Drought

  1. Mark E says:

    How many tax-payer dollars and private insurance dollars will flow to people and businesses that are tied to the money that has fueled the denialist campaign? Does that strike anyone else as downright wrong?

  2. Jay Alt says:

    Well it could be catastrophic, in a fiddle-while-Rome-burns sort of way.
    The barges of Exxon and pals won’t be towed up the Big Muddy if they can’t navigate the channel.
    Good heaven$, profits could drop! Oilers might be unable to buy every free share to pad executive stock options and fend off rational thinkers on their governing boards.

  3. Dale Nichols says:

    “your” not “you.” obviously nobody’s perfect.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    We fixed it, thx.

  5. Zimzone says:

    Here in MN we have the lowest water levels I’ve ever seen.
    Rivers are down to a trickle, wetlands have dried up completely and lake water levels are historically low.
    Autumn rains, which usually replenish water levels and tables were nonexistent.
    As the State holding the source of ‘Ol Man River’, we’re deeply concerned. Those of you down river from us should be even more worried.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Absolutely! However the flow of money from the ruling plutocracy to their political stooges who deliver public moneys back to their owners, is a closed loop. For the parasites this is the very definition of a ‘virtuous cycle’, whereas money spent on the plebs is, by definition, ‘waste’.

  7. “Government aid is bad, unless it’s for me.” This completely captures the dualistic, self-entitled, us-and-them mentality of the right wing. The means justify the ends, in their book, and the ends are their own dominion.

    I don’t think they’re even consciously hypocritical. This kind of thinking is deeply ingrained in certain segments of the population, and has a long history. It’s a strong and largely unexamined meme–the same thinking that justified slavery. It gets passed down from generation to generation.

    It’s consistent with the attitudes described in today’s post “House Committee Leaders Deny Climate Change While Extreme Weather Devastates Their States.” Badmouth the gubmint at the same time you accept aid, or misguidedly try to disable agencies that give you aid because of a generalized antipathy toward outside help (i.e., meddling).

    The whole “states’ rights” mentality is about claiming God supports the most egregious and immoral selfishness of those he favors–who, unsurprisingly, self-identify as being God’s true believers. If you’re chosen by God, you can justify just about anything, and are not required to be even remotely self-reflective.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Dredge the river, concrete it, tow icebergs from the Arctic (oops-none left soon!)-I mean Antarctic, and let the melted water flow! We can do it! We are Gods on this Earth! We make the rules! (Brief respite to take more medication. Continues as before).

  9. Mark Shapiro says:

    This is not an irony alert. This is a stupefyingly irrational anger alert.

    We are witnessing the leading edge of denialism morphing into anger.

    “Why aren’t those climate scientists fixing this problem??!!?? They’re the experts. Why aren’t they working on this?”

    Does that sound too irrational? Keep watching.

  10. SecularAnimist says:

    The fossil fuel oligarchs who are behind the API and the rest of this gang have known for decades that anthropogenic global warming is real and that it would cause this kind of damage — and it has ALWAYS been their plan to demand that the taxpayers PAY THEM for any damages that they, the perpetrators of the damage, suffer.

    It’s as though the tobacco companies were insisting that Obama require lung cancer victims to pay into a fund that would reimburse the tobacco companies for the revenue they’ve lost due to long-time smokers dying from lung cancer.

  11. Joan Savage says:

    The drought has also lowered Great Lakes water levels, prompting calls for dredging the harbors. Perhaps we can infer that that API doesn’t have as big a stake in Great Lake shipping as it does in the Mississippi system.

    Today’s Detroit News article on the Great Lakes water level:

    NOAA interactive on Great Lakes water levels:

  12. Jay Alt says:

    Joan: Perhaps we can infer that that API doesn’t have as big a stake in Great Lake shipping as it does in the Mississippi system.

    I think your conclusion is correct. 25+ yrs ago my brother-in-law worked as a hand on barge tows owned by Mobile. They loaded refined products in Houston and brought them up the Mississippi and sometimes up the Illinois River as far as Chicago.