WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on the benefits of investing in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Let me start by taking a moment to thank Ranking Member Capito and the other members of the Committee here today for joining us to kick off discussions for the development of the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
“I am very proud of our successful bipartisan work on water infrastructure so far this Congress, including passage of our drinking water and clean water bill by a margin of 89 to 2 in the Senate.
“I am grateful for the opportunity that WRDA affords us to review Corps operations every two years. This is an agency facing an extraordinarily important and difficult task with a list of worthy projects far outstripping resources available. Indeed, due to rampant underfunding for a number of years, the backlog of authorized, but not completed, projects has grown to $109 billion. That is more than 15 times the agency’s annual operating budget, which should concern all of us.
“Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture.
“And when demand for projects so outstrips the supply of resources, the Corps is placed in an untenable position. Moreover, its decision-making process is growing far more difficult as we all struggle to address the needs of small, rural, and often disadvantaged communities, as well as the infrastructure-straining impacts of sea level rise, more intense storms, pervasive droughts, and other climate change consequences.
“My hope is that today’s hearing will provide us with important insights into all of these challenges as we begin our work on the next WRDA bill. I look forward to hearing testimony from stakeholders today about their experiences with the Corps to inform us as we set priorities for the next authorization bill.
“Understanding that our concerns with the adequacy of Corps funding are universal and will be a key focus of negotiations with the Administration and our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, I would like to focus today on the upcoming challenges presented by small, worthwhile —but often overlooked—projects and the magnifying problems associated with changing climate.
“For some time, I have talked about how the current process for evaluating benefits and costs of Corps projects shortchanges our ability to address the critical needs in smaller, economically disadvantaged communities—including those in rural and tribal areas.
“Because the benefit-to-cost (BCR) ratio process does not account for the regional and local economic benefits of a project, a number of communities that need federal investment the most are the last to receive it because the benefits associated with the construction of projects in these areas are not great enough to register as significant on a national scale.
“Thus, from the perspective of the White House Office of Management and Budget, these projects oftentimes don’t make the cut.
“In the 2020 WRDA law, our Committee provided the Corps with the flexibility and authority to partner with rural and economically disadvantaged communities; however, those 2020 provisions were just the tip of the iceberg of what is needed. We need to do more for communities that depend on federal investments for essential flood and storm protection.
“Along with a number of other states, Delaware and West Virginia have often ended up on the short end of the stick when it comes to federal investment in Corps infrastructure, and we will continue to explore ways to expand the Corps’ programs to better reach the small, rural communities in states that all of us represent.
“We witness on an almost daily basis how the states of all of us around the dais are being increasingly hammered by increasingly powerful storms, more devastating floods, encroaching sea levels, and seemingly endless droughts. And, the Corps has been thrust into the position of prime defender against these all-too-frequent and increasingly costly disasters.
”To better be able to respond to climate change, the Corps needs to update its economic assessments as well as its engineering standards to ensure the nation’s infrastructure is resilient to these impacts of climate change. In short, the Corps needs to take a longer view with climate consequences in clear focus.
“As my colleagues frequently hear me say, the state of Delaware is the lowest-lying state in the nation. We are acutely aware of the need to develop solutions that not only work today, but also will protect us well into the future.
“Incorporating natural infrastructure into our resilience efforts in Delaware has proven a critical element of those long-term solutions. We’d like to see the Corps embrace and use natural infrastructure solutions more broadly as a tool to respond to climate change.
“We also need for the Corps to plan for the new climate reality we face. Failure to do so is extremely costly. From 1990 through 2019, the Corps received $53.9 billion in supplemental appropriations. The majority of that money was for flood risk projects, typically in response to flooding disasters and severe storms. Over the last decade, these funds have more than doubled the Corps’ construction program for flood risk reduction projects. We shouldn’t be waiting for the storms to address these projects, we should be addressing these initiatives before the storms ever arrive. The trick is to prevent these massive losses in the first place.
“So, let’s begin our work on WRDA this year with equity and climate goals more in mind than ever.”