May 08 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Chairman Barrasso, thank you for convening this morning’s hearing to conduct oversight on the civil works program run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This hearing is a timely follow-up to the field hearing we recently held in Iowa to examine flood protection efforts along the Missouri River and its tributaries. This subject is still particularly pertinent, given that much of downtown Davenport remains submerged under flood waters today.
“While I am optimistic that this hearing will provide us with important insights, I do have concerns that we only have the Army Corps of Engineers at the table.
“During the drafting process for the last Water Resources Development Act, also known as WRDA, one of the resounding issues Chairman Barrasso and I heard repeatedly was that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) micromanages the Corps of Engineers, and that there is a troubling lack of transparency with respect to OMB’s Corps budgeting process. While OMB continues to underfund the Army Corps’ infrastructure efforts, in every budget, OMB also relies upon a prioritization method that fails to capture all of a project’s benefits. This method, called the ‘Benefit to Cost’ ratio, racks and stacks projects based solely on national economic benefits. What that means, however, is that the needs of smaller communities, rural communities, tribes and, in many cases, the environment lose. At the same time, OMB can often times be a ‘black box’ – the agency rarely, if ever, discloses how each individual project was evaluated, raising serious questions about which projects will make it into the final Army Corps’ workplan each year.
“It may seem esoteric, but millions of Americans across the country really do rely on these Army Corps projects to safely navigate our waters, stay safe from flooding and storm damage, or reap the benefits of healthy aquatic ecosystems and marshlands. At the hearing in Iowa, it was made clear that the Army Corps is not the only agency that should be at the table if we want to take a holistic view of civil works projects and programs. Numerous other federal agencies, state agencies, local partners and communities all share a responsibility to be part of the solution.
“In the coming months, our committee needs to conduct additional oversight hearings on the implementation of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act. It is incumbent upon us to hold agencies accountable to the reforms that our committee and the Congress supported in an overwhelming bipartisan way.
“These reforms – including Benefit to Cost ratio transparency reforms, flood mitigation studies and local stakeholder participation in district budget planning processes – must be implemented to ensure we abate the damage of these floods and storms before they occur, rather than fix the unmitigated damage in their aftermath.
“I want to thank our witnesses today. I am particularly excited to hear from Mr. Chip Kline on key Louisiana projects, especially after that state experienced the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“In my home state of Delaware, we have witnessed the destructive forces of climate change with hurricanes and massive storms, like Superstorm Sandy. Scientists tell us that climate change was connected to the torrential rain, snowfall and conditions that led to record-breaking flooding in the Midwest this spring. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, climate change and sea level rise are eroding the coastline – forcing the state to take on massive reconstruction efforts. Climate change impacts red states and blue states alike. We must work together, in a constructive and bipartisan way, to help address this issue.
“From today’s testimony, I hope to learn more from the Army Corps as to how the civil works program should be improved to better account for extreme weather events and sea level rise, which nation’s leading scientists tell us will be the new norm –placing extreme burdens on the American people and economy.
“As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. If we invest strategically in the maintenance of our flood control infrastructure before the storms hit, many problems could be prevented before they ever begin. In the case of the Army Corps, however, I fear this Administration may be preventing the agency from preparing our nation’s levees, dams and ports to meet a new climate reality.
“Again, Chairman Barrasso, thank you for holding this important hearing. I look forward to learning from our witnesses, and I thank them for taking the time to share their expertise on these pressing issues.”