EPW Hearing Statement: Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held the hearing, “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for having this hearing. I am very pleased that we are continuing to work on infrastructure issues in this committee. I believe that is a space where we can truly find consensus between our parties and honor what I like to call the 80-20 Rule. President Trump has focused on an issue that many of us have raised for some time: America’s need to modernize and rebuild aging infrastructure. We heard more about his views last night in his State of the Union Address. Democratic Senators continue to press for consensus on the issue of infrastructure, and it appears to me that we are one of the few Senate Committees really talking about working on a bill in a bipartisan comprehensive way. For that, Mr. Chairman, I commend you on your leadership.

“I believe that members on both sides of the aisle feel an urgent need to move forward on a comprehensive infrastructure package in a thoughtful way, rather than to kick the can down the road. As a recovering Governor, I judge any legislation that makes these kinds of investments by asking a simple question: ‘does this create a nurturing environment for job growth and job preservation?’ In addition to seeking to answer that question, I also believe in Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that the role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do for themselves.  I think keeping this philosophy in mind is extremely important as we talk about a topic like flood control. Flood control investments are not ones average citizens can make for themselves, and not only do the construction of dams and levees create jobs, these investments also support local economies, help drive commerce, and put our communities on the path to stability. And it’s so important we make investments, because when dams and levees fail, they can result in loss of life and economic devastation.

“As we work through this hearing and other infrastructure oversight and policy decisions, I think that we will struggle with two central points: what is the role of the federal, state and local government in addressing these infrastructure concerns, and are the three levels of government up to the challenge? 

“The McKinsey Global Institute has a 2013 report that says we need to invest between $150 and $180 billion more in infrastructure every year, just to make up for years of underinvestment that is hindering our country on a multitude of levels from limiting economic growth to threatening personal safety. This comprehensive report looks at all the components of infrastructure, but this message of drastic need is easily applicable to flood control. This same report found that one of the best ways to invest, and to get the most from our dollar, is to maintain our existing infrastructure. Whether it is a bridge or a dam, the government has a fundamental responsibility to make sure those structures are sound and continue to serve the intended purpose, including protecting the lives that are impacted by the bridge or dam’s existence. 

“As I mentioned, infrastructure investment is critical for the economy, in part, because of the direct jobs we create in construction and restoration work, as well as the displaced workers that we can bring back into the workforce. But just as important, are the lives and property it protects. I am particularly looking forward to hearing from California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird on his experience with the Oroville dam, and about California’s nationally recognized flood safety program. I think it is critically important we learn from each other’s experiences, and that we take that shared knowledge forward in the legislative process. 

“The critical infrastructure of our country is aging and in need of significant capital investment to help our economy continue to grow. The 2013 infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the grade of ‘D’ to roads, dams, drinking water, and wastewater.  Inland waterways and levees received a ‘D-.’ Ports received a ‘C’ and bridges received a ‘C+.’ 

“As we hear testimony, I am particularly interested to hear the witnesses’ thoughts about the roles of the different levels of government, and where there are gaps that need to be filled as it relates to protecting, investing in, and maintaining critical infrastructure such as levees and dams. The concept of shared responsibility has been an overarching theme in many of my infrastructure-related conversations, and I am sure we will continue that conversation today. 

“Also, I hope to hear thoughts today on the concept of natural infrastructure protections as it relates to flood safety. While traditional forms of infrastructure, like roads and ports, are essential to our economy, I feel we need more investment to protect our natural infrastructure as well, such as our shorelines and wetland ecosystems. Without these protections, risks to man-made infrastructure significantly increase and in many cases become unmanageable.

“Finally, I’m interested in how the Federal Government can be more efficient with our current funding streams and get the most out of every dollar of Federal investment. I also want to know how we can make sure that we are prioritizing the most critical investments and ensuring that we maintain the assets we have first, before building new assets that we can’t afford to maintain.

“There is no one size fits all approach to solving this problem. We must work in a bipartisan fashion to really address these concerns and build consensus on a path forward for this shared State-Federal-Local government responsibility to our economy. Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”