Published March 1983 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Fostering West Virginia Coal Exports More than thirty world ports are now or soon will be deep enough to handle coal ''supercolliers.'' Those jumbo-sized ships of 100,000 deadweight tons or more allow the transport of coal and other products more cheaply than in smaller vessels. Incredibly, no U.S. port can handle the supercolliers, which require port depths of at least 50 feet. If America keeps lagging in improving ports, we stand to lose out in the world coal export market. For West Virginia, which supplies half of all U.S. coal exports, the development of adequate U.S. coal ports is a necessity in keeping West Virginia's economy growing and West Virginians on their jobs. That is the main reason I have worked for the past few months with several of my Senate colleagues to develop bi-partisan, ports improvement legislation. That legislation, which I recently introduced in the Senate with Sen. Mark Hatfield, Republican, Oregon, and Sen. John Warner, Republican, Virginia, would put port improvement projects on the front burner. For nearly three years, a stalemate over the best way to go about improving and modernizing our ports has prevented the adoption of legislation for that purpose. My bi-partisan bill, however, is a reasonable and carefully crafted compromise that offers a balanced approach to port improvement and maintenance. Under the bill, ports projects, such as deepening the coal ports at Hampton, Virginia, or Baltimore, Maryland, would be funded by a combination of federal appropriations and customs revenues. A National Port System Trust Fund would be established by my bill to pay for port operation and maintenance. Sixty percent of the fund would come from the general revenues, and 40 percent from a small tax on the value of ships' cargoes. On a $55 ton of coal, for instance, that tax would amount to slightly more than a penny. The bill also puts port improvement projects on a fast track, cutting in half the time it would otherwise take to complete a project. My primary concern in seeking port improvement legislation is to foster West Virginia's ability to sell coal and other products to the rest of the world on a competitive basis. If we could ship our coal in 120,000-ton ships, for example, our coal transportation costs could be reduced as much as 40 percent. That kind of reduction would make our coal attractive to overseas customers, which in the long-run would mean more jobs for West Virginians.