Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on Coastal Restoration and Habitat Conservation Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday June 15, 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to examine S. 2194, the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021; S. ____, the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022; S. 3069, the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act; and S. 3767, the Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Today, our committee will examine four pieces of legislation. Collectively, they would enhance the ability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore and conserve coastal habitats — for the benefit of wildlife and people alike.

“The critical work implicated in each of these bills could not be more timely. According to the United Nations, we are amid an unprecedented global biodiversity decline, and extreme weather events are already causing accelerated loss of coastal habitats, imperiling vulnerable species.

“But that’s not all. These coastal areas that many species call home also protect coastal communities — homes, businesses, and infrastructure alike. So, by investing in coastal habitats, we are investing in local economies as well.

“One of the bills we are examining today — the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act — would codify the Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program. This voluntary program provides technical and financial assistance to states, tribes, landowners, and other partners to support habitat conservation in coastal watersheds. Since 2010, this program has enabled 66 projects in Delaware alone. And, for every federal dollar invested, partners have contributed seven dollars — an impressive leveraging ratio.

“I want to thank both Senators Cardin and Graham for their leadership on this legislation, and Senator Cardin in particular, for encouraging us to hold today’s hearing.

“We will also consider legislation today pertaining to two regional Fish and Wildlife Service programs. The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act would reauthorize the Service’s Great Lakes program. This program has provided funding for research and restoration projects in the Great Lakes since 1998. The Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act would reauthorize the Service’s Delaware River Basin program. This program has successfully brought federal, state, and local governments together with regional partners to identify, prioritize, and implement restoration activities within the Basin.

”I would like to note that the Fish and Wildlife Service has done an exceptional job of getting this program off the ground since Congress authorized it in 2016. Recent grants from the Service are already being put to work in Delaware, enhancing pollinator habitats, improving fish passage, and restoring our wetlands.

“Last, but not least, today we will consider draft legislation that amends the Coastal Barrier Resources Act and codifies maps to add units to the Coastal Barrier Resources System. This program protects sensitive habitats and in doing so, saves taxpayer dollars by restricting the use of federal funding in those areas. The bipartisan Coastal Barrier Resources Act became law in 1982, in no small part due to the hard work of former Congressman Tom Evans from Delaware. I am glad to carry on his important work.

“As I mentioned earlier, the benefits of coastal restoration are well documented. After Hurricane Sandy, the Fish and Wildlife Service received funding for large-scale restoration activities to mitigate habitat damage and improve resiliency. The Service spent some of this much-needed funding to restore Fowler Beach in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. As a result of that project’s completion more than six years ago, record numbers of piping plovers are nesting on the beach.

“And the community resiliency benefits are just as impressive. The homes and infrastructure surrounding Fowler Beach — which had flooded in nearly every major rain event in the years before the completion of this project — no longer flood. Now, that is a real win-win.

“In addition to advancing the legislation before our committee today, I believe we should also undertake these types of large-scale restoration activities ahead of the next storm, instead of in response to it. Doing so would make our coastal communities even more resilient and better able to withstand extreme weather events in the face of a changing climate.

“Just as our committee has agreed that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to our goals for conserving species, the same is true of building resiliency in our nation’s coastal communities.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has demonstrated that we can, and should, tackle these important goals together. This is evident from their successful work in the First State and many other states as well.

“What we have experienced in Delaware is the rule, not the exception. When we restore and conserve habitat, we also protect communities and support local economies. I hope our colleagues and our esteemed panel of witnesses will highlight their similar experiences, and we look forward to hearing from all of you.”