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Surface Transportation Act

Sen. Johnny Isakson

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Mr. President, amendment No. 1574 modifying the Congressional authorization for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, SHEP, is clearly supported in the Constitution. Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to authorize and appropriate funds and Article I, Section 8, specifically grants Congress the power ``To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes.'' The power of Congress to fund the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is unquestionably granted by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has also expressly stated that ``Commerce with foreign nations means commerce between citizens of the United States and citizens or subjects of foreign governments. It means trade, and it means intercourse. It means commercial intercourse between nations, and parts of nations, in all its branches. It includes navigation, as the principal means by which foreign intercourse is affected.''

The power to regulate, authorize, and appropriate funding for the ports comes from the authority to regulate navigation, arising from the Commerce Clause. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, and by extension all harbor deepening projects, involves the general welfare of the United States. The Port of Savannah is a turnstile for cargo that impacts the United States as a whole. Congress is permitted to contribute to the project because it would improve the ability of the United States to receive larger ships entering through the Panama Canal. The Project will make national trade more competitive, while greatly impacting the State and the region. Trades, and its relations (ports), are fundamental extensions of the congressional power to regulate commerce. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is a permissible exercise of Congress's authority to regulate commerce and contributes to the general welfare of the United States. The constitutional ability of Congress to provide funding for the program is unquestionable.

The Port of Savannah is the second largest container port on the East Coast and the fourth largest in the country. The Georgia Department of Economic Development recently announced that Georgia exported more than $28.7 billion in goods last year, a 20.8 percent increase from 2009 and our imports experienced a 27 percent increase last year compared to 2009. That's well over the overall national increase of 22.6 percent. Exports accounted for more than 54 percent of the 2.8 million containers Georgia Ports moved last year. Savannah handles more than 17 percent of all container cargo on the East Coast and is an essential element for the creation of new jobs, and the preservation of existing jobs, in America. The Panama Canal Authority has undertaken a 7 year $5.25 billion project to widen the canal to double its capacity by allowing larger ships to transit it. After this expansion, the Panama Canal will be able to handle vessels of cargo capacity up to 13,000 twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs, which is the measure of cargo capacity often used to describe the capacity of a container ship. As a result of the canal's expansion and widening, shipping vessels are modernizing their fleet and purchasing a much larger class of vessel. These ``Post Panamax'' and ``New Panamax'' fleets will be comprised of vessels much larger than anything on the ocean today.

In order to accommodate these vessels, improvements must be made to our Nation's existing infrastructure. The Georgia Ports Authority and the State of Georgia are undertaking a project to deepen the port's channel from 42 feet to 48 feet in order to accommodate this larger class of vessels. Doing so will protect existing jobs at the port while also creating new jobs as these larger vessels call in the Port of Savannah. It is critically important that we expand not only Savannah Harbor but all harbors to ensure they continue to act as gateways for business to not only Georgia and the Southeast United States, but the entire Nation.