EPW Hearing Statement: The Invasive Species Threat: Protecting Wildlife, Public Health, and Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held the hearing, “The Invasive Species Threat: Protecting Wildlife, Public Health, and Infrastructure.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Since our last hearing on invasive species in March of 2017, our committee has worked across the aisle to try to address the challenges these species create for public health, infrastructure and native wildlife.

“The WILD Act, which we reported from our EPW Committee last week, directs federal agencies to manage proactively for invasive species, and it creates a new ‘genius prize’ to spur innovation in managing invasive species. I am proud of our committee’s ongoing work on the WILD Act, and I urge its swift passage and enactment into law by this Congress. Our 2018 Water Resources Development Act also included provisions to target invasive species in specific states, including Asian carp in the Great Lakes.

“Unfortunately, invasive species are still prevailing and wreaking havoc across our country. Delaware hosts both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species, such as catfish, crayfish and insects. Specifically, the Delaware Department of Agriculture has recently reported spotted lanternfly sightings. These destructive insects could harm agricultural industries throughout our region. The emerald ash borer also made its way to Delaware in 2016, and this kind of ‘jewel beetle’ is not a welcomed jewel by those of us in the Diamond State. This beetle’s path of destruction is broad, already causing the rapid decline of five species of North American ash trees across 35 states.

“Ash wood is a valuable commodity, used to make baseball bats, among other items. Pitchers and catchers of major league baseball teams across America are reporting to spring training camps.  Given that many of the bats those teams will be swinging come from ash trees in the USA, if we want to strike a blow for America’s national pastime, we could start by making sure that this pesky beetle is called out on strikes and thrown out of the game for good! 

“Ash trees are also important in their ecosystems. These trees filter air, mitigate storm water runoff, and sequester carbon, and they provide habitat for native moth, butterfly and insect species. Sadly, ash trees are not the only species that have declined significantly due to invasive species. According to the National Wildlife Federation, invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42 percent of threatened and endangered species.

“We’ve got to do more to quell the growing threat of invasive species, and that includes addressing root causes. To that end, I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of climate change in the spread of invasive species. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued by thirteen federal agencies just last November, recognizes that climate change is causing conditions that may favor invasive species over native species.

“As warming temperatures cause native species’ ranges to shift, experts believe invasive species may occupy many new areas. For example, the Asian tiger mosquito, which carries West Nile and Zika viruses, may well expand into the Northeast in coming years. Climate change is an existential threat to our nation and world, and the spread of invasive species is just one symptom of that problem.

“In addition to considering root causes, there are creative ways we can adapt to deal with invasive species threats. A few months ago, I visited an Agricultural Research Service unit on the campus of the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware. Researchers at this facility study beneficial insects and are exploring options for releasing these natural predators where invasive species are present.

“This research takes many years to ensure that releasing new species will not have unintended consequences. When this method is successful, it can alleviate the need to eradicate invasive species in less environmentally friendly ways.

“Each state is different, though. They face different challenges and hold different ideas regarding how to address invasive species, so we want to thank each of our witnesses for sharing their perspectives with us today.

“Mr. Chairman, with the help of our witnesses, other stakeholders and colleagues, I hope we can identify some new opportunities for bipartisan collaboration to combat invasive species. I appreciate your continued leadership and interest in this important topic. Thank you.”