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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Legislative Hearing on S.___, 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, 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. Our bill, titled America’s Water Infrastructure Act, is an important piece of legislation, given that the authorization law under which the Corps of Engineer is currently operating expires in December. I am proud of the bipartisan work we have done together 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. 


“Before I comment on the bill though, I also want to thank all of the witnesses for joining us today. I particularly want to thank Jeff Bullock, Delaware’s Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Board that oversees the Port of Wilmington, and Tony Pratt, the President of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, for joining us today.


“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 coastal channels that the Corps maintains. The Corps’ inland waterways and locks form a freight network – think of it as a ‘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, it positions the Corps to be an active partner with ports, communities, states, tribes and other stakeholders in growing and expanding our nation’s economy.


“A reinvestment in this partnership is much-needed. 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 and serves to build a better ground swell of support for increased appropriations for the agency’s initiatives. 


“Our legislation also invests nationally — in both coasts and inland 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 is most certainly coming.  Earlier this year, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that the total costs for extreme weather and climate events in 2017 exceeded $300 billion — a new annual record in the U.S. It is clearly not 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 gives our country’s dams, levees and inland waterways a D, representing an overall cumulative investment backlog of nearly $140 billion and an authorized, but unconstructed, portfolio of $60 billion. The bill reauthorizes the Corps’ dam safety programs and makes needed changes, as proposed by the Civil Engineers. 


“Clearly, we have a good deal of important work to do to move this bill across the goal line. However, if we continue to work in a bipartisan fashion, I believe we will get this bill done, and our country will be better for it. 


“Mr. Chairman, thank you again for your leadership on this bill and for your staff’s hard work. I would also like to thank our partners, Senator Inhofe and Senator Cardin and their staff for being a part of this process. I would like to recognize the staff members who have worked so hard on this bill – Brian, Andy, Pauline, Lizzy, Craig, Mae and Jennie. In addition, I would like to thank Christina Baysinger, Skylar Bayer and John Kane. All of our staff has spent countless hours working through provisions that matter not just for Wyoming, not just for Delaware, but for our nation as a whole. Again, we welcome our witnesses and look forward to hearing from each of you this morning and to making a very good piece of legislation even better in the weeks ahead.”