EPW Hearing Statement: S. 2800, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Legislative Hearing on S.2800, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, once again, my thanks to you, our colleagues Senator Inhofe and Senator Cardin, and your staffs for working with us to address America’s water infrastructure needs. I am proud of the bipartisan work we have done thus far on this legislation, and I hope it will serve as a model for work that we – along with other committees – can do together in the future. I also want to thank Assistant Secretary James for joining us today. I appreciate the help that he and his team have provided to date so that our legislative process can move quickly and smoothly.

“As I have said before, and I am sure you will hear me say again, coastal issues are extremely important to Delaware – the lowest lying state in the country – and the water resources bill is critical to my state’s economy.  But Delaware’s economic reliance on the Corps’ work is not unique. Over 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade volume moves through waterways that the Corps maintains. The Corps’ inland waterways and locks form a freight network – think of it as a sort of ‘water highway’ – that provides access to international markets through our ports. They also serve as critical infrastructure for the U.S. military.   

“Our bill authorizes investments in this system in multiple ways. Most notably, at the request of Secretary James, and of many senators both on and off this committee, the bill better positions the Corps to be an active partner with ports, communities, states, tribes and other stakeholders in growing and expanding our nation’s economy. Putting the local stakeholders at the table with the Corps will enhance the process and help the Corps become a more viable partner in projects that promote long-term economic growth.

“We have heard from many senators that reinvestment in this partnership is much-needed and that our committee needs to address criteria that the Corps uses to budget for projects. For the better part of a decade, the executive branch has calculated water project costs and benefits in a way that has led to a backlog of unfunded and uncompleted, but needed, projects. Our bill works to address this problem by authorizing new funding and project planning requirements at the Corps’ most local level – the individual Corps districts.

“This legislation requires local participation in the development of these new district plans, too. Hopefully, this participation will allow for a more transparent and long-term look at the Corps’ activities while also building a greater ground swell of support for increased appropriations for the agency’s initiatives. Our legislation also authorizes investments in both our inland and coastal waterways. I am particularly proud of a provision that will support the selection of natural infrastructure alternatives as a practicable solution in situations where, and when, the development of grey – or more traditional –infrastructure alone may not work. 

“The Corps of Engineers also works to reduce risk to human safety and property damage from flooding. Flooding alone currently costs the United States billions of dollars annually. As the 2017 hurricane season illustrated, our nation needs to be ready for the next extreme storm or flood event, because it almost certainly is coming.  The total costs for extreme weather and climate events in 2017 exceeded $300 billion — a new annual record in the U.S.  In truth, it is no longer a matter of ‘if’ the next extreme weather event is coming. It is a matter of ‘when.’ Our bill allows the Secretary of the Army to waive the cost share for hazard mitigation related feasibility studies so that we can be shovel ready before the next storm hits. Additionally, the bill modifies the Corps’ existing emergency authorities to allow the agency to participate in storm damage recovery for a longer period of time, make more resilient infrastructure decisions, and, where appropriate, cost-share infrastructure replacement so resources can go further. 

“The American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card currently gives our country’s dams, levees and inland waterways a ‘D’ representing an overall backlog of unconstructed projects totaling $96 billion. Our bill also reauthorizes the Corps’ dam safety programs and makes needed changes, as proposed by the Civil Engineers. Clearly, we have a good deal of additional, important work to do to move this bill across the goal line; however,  the cumulative efforts of a number of people, many of them in this room today, have enabled us to get off to a good start. If we continue to work hard and in a bipartisan fashion, I believe we will enact water resources legislation that will strengthen our country in many ways and in a timely manner and, maybe, set an example that other committees in the Senate and House will choose to emulate.     

“In closing, Mr. Chairman, let me again thank you, along with our colleagues Senators Inhofe and Cardin, for your leadership on this bill. We welcome Secretary James back before our Committee and look forward to hearing from him today and to using his input, along with that of many other stakeholders, to craft legislation that we can all be proud of.”