EPW Hearing Statement: Oversight: Modernizing our Nation’s Infrastructure

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Oversight: Modernizing our Nation’s Infrastructure.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to discuss infrastructure in our first policy hearing. I am very pleased that we are working on an issue where I believe we can truly find consensus between our parties. As you know, the President has raised the issue of America needing to modernize and rebuild aged-out infrastructure as a point of concern, and Democratic Senators recently released a blueprint for addressing infrastructure challenges. I believe that members on both sides of the aisle are supportive of addressing this problem.

“As a recovering Governor, I look at most legislation through a particular lens: ‘Does it help create a more nurturing and inviting environment for job creation and job retention?’ That is how I am going to look at this hearing because strong infrastructure is critical for a strong economy. In 2013, the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report they call Game Changers, which analyzes how the U.S. could dramatically transform and expand our economy. One of the top game changers is infrastructure investment. Their report showed that we need to invest between $150 and $180 billion more in infrastructure every year, just to make up for years of underinvestment and enable robust future growth. Investing at this level would add 1.4% to 1.7% to GDP every year and would create 1.8 million new jobs by 2020. In this same report, they found that one of the best ways to invest, and to get the most from our dollar, is to maintain our existing infrastructure.

“Infrastructure investment is critical for the economy in part because of the direct jobs we create in construction and restoration work and the displaced workers that we can bring back into the workforce. But, just as important, is the fact that modern infrastructure helps people and businesses move more efficiently. Last year, the average commuter wasted 42 hours – more than a typical work-week – in traffic, according to data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. A more modern infrastructure would mean less time and fewer resources wasted unproductively. Our nation’s health, wealth, and security rely on the production and distribution of goods and services. Every day people and goods move across an array of physical systems, which are collectively known as our critical infrastructure. The critical infrastructure of our country, however, 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 in three key areas. The first is that while financing techniques are a tool that may be appropriate for some types of projects, financing will not solve all infrastructure needs, regardless of whether you are a rural or urban state. The second area I would like to hear more about is the need for a broad investment strategy. 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 ecosystem restorations. 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. Infrastructure is a shared responsibility with state and local governments, and I want to ensure we’re helping state and local governments with this shared burden, while giving them the flexibility they need. I also want to know how we can make sure that we are prioritizing the most critical investments and working to 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.  

“Finally, Mr. Chairman, I just want to take a moment and personally welcome Tony Pratt and Shailen Bhatt to the panel. As you may know, Tony is the current Administrator of the Shoreline and Waterway Management Section within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the current President of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association. He will be discussing a wide range of water infrastructure related issues, and why protecting our natural infrastructure is as important as restoring our roads and bridges. Shailen comes to this hearing today as the current Executive Director for the Colorado Department of Transportation; however, in a former life, he was the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation.  In Delaware, he led the response to two hurricanes, introduced performance management to the agency, and reduced agency debt by 30% while delivering $2 billion in infrastructure improvements.

“Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”