(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, the Committee meets to conduct oversight of the Corps’ implementation of WRDA 2007. We will also review the FY 2009 budget of the Civil Works Program. We are examining these issues together because it is the annual budget request that truly demonstrates an administration’s priorities.
In examining the budget request, I ask: Are we committed to protecting lives, enhancing the environment, and growing the economy?
The budget reflects the administration’s level of commitment to these priorities, and I think it falls short.
Last year, I was pleased to join with Senator Inhofe, the ranking member of this Committee, and all members of this Committee, to lead the floor fight to overturn the President’s ill-advised veto of WRDA ‘07.
By a vote of 79-14, the Senate overwhelming told the President that there was more than one branch of government in this nation, and that shoring up America’s water infrastructure was long overdue and must be a priority.
Secretary Woodley, Chief Van Antwerp, welcome to both of you. And thank you for appearing before the Committee today.
Your agency provides communities with flood protection, restores ecosystems, such as the once vast wetlands of America, and helps grow economies through more efficient navigation.
My home state of California has some of the nation’s most critical needs. Indeed, my state’s capital, Sacramento, is 4 times as likely to see catastrophic flooding as New Orleans was in 2005. I am pleased to see that Sacramento-area flood control was not ignored in this budget.
I also appreciate that the budget includes more than $5 billion to complete the repair of levees in New Orleans. These emergency funds are an important step to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—but they cannot be the last step.
Having led a congressional delegation to New Orleans last year, I saw for myself what happens when we neglect our nation’s flood control infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the President has shown that he fails to learn the lesson of Hurricane Katrina:
We must shore up our nation’s water and flood control infrastructure before catastrophe strikes—not afterwards.
The President’s budget request for the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers is a paltry $4.741 billion.
This represents a decrease of $851 million from the FY 2008-enacted level of $5.592 billion.
Even more shocking, the proposed FY 2009 budget includes a 36% cut in construction for flood control projects authorized by Congress.
How can one possibly propose such a cut for our nation’s flood control infrastructure?
But this budget also cuts funding for construction of vital environmental restoration projects—projects to help restore our rivers and the wetlands of this nation.
Wetlands, as Carl Strock the former Chief of Engineers has told this Committee before, provide natural flood control, by serving as a sponge, soaking up excess flood water during storms.
Colleagues, we simply cannot continue to go on like this. Nor can we move forward with significant water infrastructure projects without taking an extra look at them before they proceed.
That is why the 2007 WRDA included provisions requiring a truly independent review process, where outside experts will be able to examine all aspects of the environmental, economic and engineering components of a project study. The external and independent panels will remain available to advise the Corps throughout the entire project development process.
However, this new independent review process must be implemented. I was disappointed to see that in the FY 2009 budget, only $1 million was requested for these critical Independent Peer Reviews.
Colleagues, too much is at stake when we short-cut our water infrastructure—whether it be by underfunding it, or by failing to have experts review significant projects.
I also will be interested in discussing how the new requirements for mitigation are being implemented and how revisions to the planning process are developing.
I look forward to the testimony of the Assistant Secretary and to questioning him and the Chief of Engineers about the Administration’s proposed budget and how the critical WRDA 2007 reforms are being implemented.
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