Hearings - Statement
Statement of Benjamin L. Cardin
Hearing: FULL COMMITTEE FIELD HEARING: "Moving Forward after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita" PLEASE NOTE: This hearing will start at 10:00 AM Central Time (11:00 Eastern Time)
Monday, February 26, 2007

Madam Chair:

Thank you for holding this field hearing today, here in New Orleans. Because we have so many witnesses, so many topics, and so little time, I’m going to be brief. I really consider this a “hearing” in the true sense of the term – an opportunity for the Environment & Public Works Committee to hear from some of the people who have been directly affected by the worst natural disaster in our Nation’s history and who will help the region recover and rebuild.

I would like to make two brief points. First of all, Katrina was the worst natural disaster we have experienced but it’s important to acknowledge that it didn’t have to be. There were failures at all levels of government – which others have documented – before, during, and after the storm hit. These failures – from poor design, construction, and maintenance of the levees and floodwalls to inadequate evacuation plans and resources – made a bad situation much worse.

I bring this up because much of the rhetoric we have heard the past few decades has been about tearing government down. And we allowed that to happen: not enough resources, not enough oversight.
To put it simply and starkly, Katrina grimly illustrated the consequences of bad government and the need for good government. The flooding didn’t have to be so extensive, and people didn’t have to be stranded for days on the roofs of their homes or at the Superdome.

I think it’s time to re-acknowledge that there are certain goods and services only government can provide. Instead of spending all our time and effort trying to get rid of government, let’s a find a way to make sure it provides those goods and services as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The second point I would make is that we tend to think there’s a “technological” solution to all of our problems. That’s why I appreciate the fact that part of this hearing is devoted to the issue of wetland losses and restoration.

Wetlands provide an excellent natural “buffer” system to absorb and reduce the impact of storms. But during the course of this hearing, wetlands the size of four to five football fields will sink into the Gulf of Mexico. Much of that loss is attributable to human activities.

Protecting New Orleans and the other cities and towns along the Gulf Coast from the next big storm isn’t just an engineering issue. It’s not just about bigger, stronger levees and floodwalls. We have to stop wetland losses and give this natural buffer system of barrier islands, wetlands, grass marshes, and cypress swamps a chance to recover.

Thank you again, Madam Chair, for holding this field hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. We all have an enormous task at hand: to help one of America’s greatest cities come back, to help the entire Gulf Coast come back, and to protect this wonderful area and its people from having to endure something as devastating and horrific as Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath ever again.

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