September 20, 2012
Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-9797
Katie Brown Katie_Brown@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-2160
Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee hearing entitled, "Water Resources Development Act: Growing the Economy and Protecting Public Safety."
Thursday, September 20, 2012 10:00 AM
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing. I also would like to thank our witnesses for testifying before us this morning.
Today, we are here to discuss a very important piece of legislation that this Committee is responsible for: the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes projects and policy changes to address the nation's pressing water resources challenges.
As a fiscal conservative, I strongly support the overall goal of cutting government spending; however, I firmly believe that the two areas worthy of spending taxpayer dollars are defense and infrastructure. It may not be as headline-grabbing as some other areas of government spending, but spending on infrastructure not only has job creation benefits, but is essential for long-term economic growth.
This year, many of this Committee's activities focused on this important issue. Most notably, we came together in a bipartisan way to pass a highway bill despite numerous challenges. For that, I want to thank the Chairman for her leadership and dedication. Not everyone thought we could get it done, but we proved them wrong.
Sen. Cardin and Sen. Session's Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held two hearings to make the case for investments in our drinking water and clean water infrastructure. We learned that improving water infrastructure yields significant economic benefits. The Department of Commerce estimates that one dollar invested in water infrastructure generates more than $2 in economic output in other industries and that each job created in the local water and sewer industry creates nearly four jobs in the national economy. The U.S. Conference of Mayors noted that each public dollar invested in water infrastructure increases private long-term GDP output by more than $6. I want to thank them as well for their leadership and for bringing this issue to the forefront.
Now this Committee is turning its attention to the nation's water resources infrastructure. Like these other types of infrastructure, water resources infrastructure provides a good return on our investment in the form of economic benefits, job creation, and helping improve protection from flooding and other natural disasters. Our witnesses are here to further demonstrate the case for passing a WRDA bill.
WRDA should be passed on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the last WRDA bill was enacted in November 2007 - almost five years ago. At that time, we came together with the House to override a presidential veto because we recognized the significance of this legislation.
During consideration of that last bill, Paul Weyrick described the need for preserving the authorization and appropriations process in a column for Townhall. He said, "It is a discipline which is necessary if Congress is to display any resemblance of fiscal responsibility." Mr. Weyrick also correctly pointed out that it is an "important discipline against uncontrolled earmarking" and it helps to limit authorizing on appropriations bills. This rationale holds true today and in some ways it is even more important that we preserve this process.
To that end, the Chairman and I have repeatedly signaled our strong desire to move a bipartisan WRDA bill. My staff and the other members of the Big 4 staff have been working hard to negotiate a WRDA bill. We recognize that there are pressing policy challenges that range from modernizing our ports and inland waterways to streamlining the Army Corps study and planning process.
In addition, seventeen projects with a Chief's Report have been referred to Congress by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Ms. Jo-Ellen Darcy. The projects range from critical flood control projects that help protect the public to port construction projects that will prepare us for the Panama Canal expansion. They have gone through many years of study to determine if there is a federal interest in addressing the water resources issue and whether or not the project is economically justified and feasible from an engineering standpoint. In addition, these projects have a local sponsor that shares the cost. Congress, starting with the EPW Committee, must make an individual investment decision as to whether each project should receive authorization. WRDA is the bill where Congress makes those decisions. Only then is the authorized project eligible to compete for funding through the appropriations process.
In my home state of Oklahoma, we have our share of water resources challenges, too. These run the gamut from flood control to inland navigation to water supply. Oklahoma's and the nation's water resources policy issues and projects can no longer keep waiting for Congressional action. I strongly support moving forward with a bipartisan WRDA bill and I encourage my colleagues to do so as well.
I look forward to hearing the witnesses' testimony.