Is there a clear action that an individual can take to help support efforts here? Or, if there's not yet, can I request that you keep us in-the-loop if such efforts arise in the future? I would happily volunteer my time/money if it could be well-used.

Expand full comment
May 5, 2022·edited May 6, 2022

Zvi -- if you're not already familiar with Colin Grabow's work on the Dredge Act and the Jones Act over at Cato, beyond the "Welcome to New Critics" piece, you'd find an *extremely* dedicated ally in him, one who already knows a *lot* about why various political actors are or aren't willing to pull the levers on this issue. I briefly worked with him on the political aspect of these issues and he is always looking for more interesting, smart people with new angles on the topics. He's done a lot of thinking about alternatives, ways to signal appreciation of the existing values and priorities encoded in the laws, and ways to fix the worst aspects if straight repeal is off the table -- but he's also done a lot of work on who the critical actors are whose approval/disapproval could actually lead to things happening. (The third piece of legislation here in the unholy trifecta of Jones Act/Foreign Dredge Act, btw, is the law that prohibits cruise ships from stopping at multiple American ports in a row unless they're built in the U.S. -- which is even more ridiculous than either of the previous two since the U.S. hasn't build a cruise ship since the *1950s.*)

Expand full comment

The section on current dredging ROI seems to somewhat refute the section on why we're not building more American dredges: building a ship costs 3-5x more against 7+x value returned.

You mentioned assuming that American dredging contracts cost 2x. If that's the case, the cost seems artificially depressed, possibly for interesting reasons? If that's not the case, the margins seem healthy enough for the dredging oligopoly to pump out ships as quickly as possible even in against the risk of Dredge Act repeal.

Your post implies some interesting questions about the supply side of the equation. Thanks for the run-down and call to action!

Expand full comment

How do you square this claim: “If we presume … that the dredging market overseas is competitive (which by all reports it is)” with this statement “ 90% of global dredging contracts are currently won by one of four Belgian and Dutch dredging companies”? Seems like if 90% of the market is controlled by 4 companies, and there’s major barriers to entry (upfront costs) that this market is quite uncompetitive.

Expand full comment

I think before you jump down this rabbit hole you should investigate how incredibly difficult it is to get a permit to dredge from the Army Corps of Engineers. Once you do that you'll probably discover (A) the true barrier to dredging, and (B) the true reason why nobody's building super new awesome dredges in the USA. You're very likely not only barking up the wrong tree, the tree you're barking up is a bush under the bigger tree for a reason.

Expand full comment

The last part of the Lee bill is most likely related to NEPA - in various situations courts have required alternatives considered to include things that an agency can’t do or that even might require legislative action and therefore vacated the “Record of Decision” that says “go ahead”.

Expand full comment

I’ve not written it yet, but I believe a bigger but similar problem exists with regard to NEPA, that I’ve been meaning to try and summarize. There is a lot out there laying out the issues, but I think the unexplored space is looking at economic impacts of the process particularly as it would compare to somewhere like France, Australia, or Canada. The primary difference is lawsuits and private cause of action, and I imagine the GDP drag is quite large since it touches almost everything.

One other note, for context on this issue: related to the Jones Act and the Dredge Act - currently there are some exceptions to crewing and flagging requirements written into law for the offshore energy industries. Even right now, what would in effect be a repeal, has passed the House as part of a Coast Guard bill and the relevant Senate Committee is thinking about adding similar language.

This would be actually be going the other direction, have major economic disruption costs, and meaningfully impact emissions in a negative way - Gulf oil and gas is among the lowest emissions intensity in the world and even more relevant, it would delay offshore wind projects in the near term while increasing their costs permanently term, slowing deployment.


Expand full comment

I think that basing your count of the total dredge workers on the BLS data is causing a drastic undercount. I operate a tug boat company. We move dredge equipment around and otherwise support dredge operations. My rough guess of the total number of workers is an order of magnitude larger. They are probably just classified as some form of manual labor in BLS data. Dredge operators are not known for their paperwork skills.

Regardless, I think your points about the size of the workforce relative to the total workforce and potential benefits are correct even with a more accurate number.

Expand full comment

Another possible strategy:

The CPB could really use a division that produced a "consumer impact score" for proposed and existing legislation. An approach like that could unify both free marketers and those concerned about big corporate interests.

This strategy would resemble OMB/CBO roles that emerged originally as a tool by budget hawks, but became entrenched and bipartisan. The functions endured because it was indefensible to say we don't want to even know the impact of proposed policies (or more because both sides love a cudgel they can use to attack the other side's proposals).

There are lots of "total cost" studies for tariffs, this wouldn't require inventing new methodologies.

It wouldn't solve for the Jones Act or the Dredge Act directly, but it's a bit of a Nomic[1] strategy--it changes the moves in the game. The change would (somewhat) increase headwinds for a whole series of problems related to the concentrated benefits + distributed costs problem.

Since it addresses fundamental conditions at the meta level, it could probably avoid the unified opposition that emerges on individual policies at the object-level.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomic

Expand full comment