Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing, and thank you to all the witnesses for joining us this morning. We’ve been trying to hold this hearing for several months now, and I’m happy it’s finally happening. The Chairman and I have worked together to develop a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2010, but it looks like we are not going to have enough time to finish it this Congress. I hope to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure we pass a WRDA next year.
At our first WRDA hearing in May, we heard from witnesses who spoke of the short- and long-term economic benefits of investments in our water resources infrastructure. Today’s hearing will focus on legislative and policy recommendations for the next WRDA, including levee safety, investment in our inland waterways system and maintenance of our ports and harbors.
As anyone who has heard me speak before about infrastructure well knows, I strongly support federal investment in public infrastructure. In fact, I believe it is one of two areas where the federal government should spend money, the other being national defense, of course. We have significant water resources needs across the country, but we aren’t dedicating the funds necessary to address them.
Let me be clear, though, that I am not advocating for simply increasing overall spending. Instead, I support making infrastructure spending a greater percentage of overall spending. I look forward to discussing how we can do that with the witnesses here today.
WRDA 2007 included establishment of a committee on levee safety, to be composed of federal, state, local, tribal and private sector experts and charged with making recommendations on how best to structure a national levee safety program. In January 2009 that committee made public a report with a number of recommendations that I believe deserve further discussion. It is important that we get a program started soon, but also important to make sure we don’t rush through the numerous and complex issues involved and that a national levee safety program does not set unrealistic expectations for levels of federal funding.
Moving to the topic of the inland waterways system, I know I’ve used this example before, but it bears repeating: the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is very important to the national economy and to the economy of my home state. Currently, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa alone is the location of more than 60 companies employing nearly 3,000 employees. We must figure out a way to continue investing in this important aspect of our economy.
The Inland Waterways Users Board, working with the Corps of Engineers, undertook a thorough review of the current process used for investing in our system. The Board developed a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at not just increasing our investments, but also at making any level of investment more efficient and effective. Many of these recommendations may be appropriate for inclusion in the next WRDA.
Maintenance of our ports and harbors is unfortunately another underfunded activity. I can understand the frustration on this issue since a specific tax is collected to be used to fund these activities. Instead, approximately half of yearly revenues are spent as intended while the rest is counted as offsetting the deficit. That is not fair or honest, especially when so much maintenance is left unfunded.
I do have a concern with the legislation introduced to address this issue, however, and that is that it likely would lead to decreased funding for other activities of the Corps that are already underfunded as well. If we can find a way to address the needs of our ports without negatively impacting our other water resources needs, I would be very supportive.
Before I finish, I want to acknowledge all the work done so far. I know that a lot of people have put a great deal of time and effort into studying these three issues and developing recommendations. I want to say thank you to everyone involved. We still have some work to do, but I look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues, the witnesses and their colleagues to address these issues during development of the next Water Resources Development Act.