The Delta Queen at Mud Island in Memphis (Wikipedia photo).
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, who cosponsored the exemption, told the Rules Committee that to deny a debate and vote "flies in the face of reason and will only contribute to the declining respect that Americans hold for this institution."
Leading the fight against the steamboat is none other that Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. A spokesman for Oberstar's committee claims that the Coast Guard thinks the vessel is a fire hazard. That begs a rather obvious question: if the vessel is such a safety hazard, why has the service agreed to multiple renewals of the Queen's exemption, stretching back over 40 years?
As many readers know, Representative Oberstar has a reputation on Capitol Hill as a tireless defender of bicycle paths and transportation pork. He was one of the primary authors of last year's shameless highway bill, a $295 billion mounment to government waste that included $23 billion for "special projects" including museums, parking lots, snowmobile trails and, of course, bicycle paths.
Perhaps Mr. Oberstar would be more supportive if the Delta Queen had ties to a light rail project, or the steamboat's owners, Majestic America Line, offered bicycle tours as part of their cruise packages.
In any event, there is a chance that one of America's historic treasures will not be sailing the Mississippi or its tributaries next year. The Delta Queen is the only riverboat listed on both the National Landmark listing, and the National Register of Historic Places. It is certainly worthy of preservation and continued operations, under its long-standing exemption.
We can only hope that Mr. Chabot and Mr. Gray succeed in their efforts.