INHOFE STATEMENT AT EPW HEARING ON THE HARBOR MAINTENANCE TRUST FUND AND THE NEED TO INVEST IN THE NATION'S PORTS

"Thank you, Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter, for holding this hearing and allowing committee members to receive testimony on the Habor Maintenance Trust Fund. I also would like to thank Assistant Secretary Darcy for testifying before us this morning, as well as the four gentlemen who will be joining us during the second panel -- this committee greatly appreciates you and relies on your expertise, so thank you very much for being here.

"I would like to also take a moment to thank the chairman, Senator Boxer, and our new ranking member, Senator Vitter, for all the work they and their staffs have done thus far on the next Water Resources Development Act. I look forward to working with both of you as we build upon our past successes and continue to work toward preserving and enhancing the infrastructure of this great nation.

"Certainly the most immediate challenge this committee faces is the authorization of water resources development legislation. As I’ve said time and time again, we as a Congress must pass authorization bills on a regular schedule so as to preserve the proper authorization-then-appropriations process. It has been six years now since we passed the last Water Resources Development Act, despite the best efforts of this committee—and that, in my judgment, is too long.

"Our harbors and inland waterways are vital to the economic health of our country. In my home state of Oklahoma, over 90% of the grain that is shipped on barges eventually finds its way to New Orleans to be exported. If the harbor in New Orleans is not properly maintained, shipping from Oklahoma will suffer. Andvice versa—for harbors to gain the economic benefit of shipping from places like Oklahoma, our inland waterways must also be properly maintained. As everyone here knows, only about half of the annual revenue in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is spent as intended—on critical maintenance dredging. But because of the current structure of budgetary allocations, we simply cannot afford to allow funding for our inland waterways and ports to be redirected—it, too, needs a source of stable revenue. The only reasonable solution is increased funding for the system as a whole.

"The Inland Waterways Trust Fund helps fund the 18 locks and dams on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, but it is woefully underfunded. In 2012, over 2.7 million tons of cargo shipped from the Port of Catoosa, with over 12 million tons being shipped on MKARNS, but the system could function much more efficiently and productively if it was deepened from its current 9 foot depth to the authorized 12 feet, and if hours of service on the locks are not further reduced. This must be a priority.

"I have said my entire career that I take fiscal responsibility very seriously. However, I believe the federal government has a responsibility to invest innational defense and infrastructure. In 2011 the President cut the Corps ofEngineers’ budget by $600 million and by $300 million again in 2012. Our nation’s system of inland waterways, highways, and coastal ports are our pathway to trade and economic prosperity, and we cannot continue this downward trajectory. Again, I thank the witnesses and look forward to their testimony."

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