Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Jeffords, thank you for holding this very important hearing today in response to the devastating Hurricanes that my home state of Louisiana has unfortunately experienced first-hand. I would also like to thank each of the witnesses for being here today, especially those from Louisiana.
Just over two months have passed since our nation witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Katrina - an entire major metropolitan area evacuated, flooded and completely closed for weeks. A few weeks later, Louisiana was struck by another major storm, Hurricane Rita.
We have lost over a thousand lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity. Now is a critical time for the rebuilding effort. Several major businesses have pledged to come back to rebuild in New Orleans. However, there are many other businesses that are deciding now about whether to relocate elsewhere or come back and rebuild in Louisiana.
A key factor for bringing back businesses and citizens to New Orleans is strong hurricane protection that could sustain a Category 5 storm. People need assurance that the level of hurricane and flood protection will be much greater than before Hurricane Katrina. They do not want to relive the catastrophic effects experienced over the past few months. Clearly, rebuilding the levees to withstand a Category 5 storm will help alleviate the fears people have about moving back and reinvesting their lives and businesses in New Orleans.
We are not only rebuilding stronger levees, buildings and infrastructure, but also reviving a shattered economy. We need to help our local job base remain strong and provide incentives that will bring even more jobs and businesses back to New Orleans to get our economy up and running again.
As I have stressed many times, the response and recovery to Hurricane Katrina is not just a Louisiana issue. Louisiana literally fuels this nation with 20 percent of the energy needed to power the United States. Virtually every American is paying higher gas and home heating oil prices and that is going to have a detrimental affect on our nation’s economy. The ports between Baton Rouge and New Orleans comprise the largest port system in the world. We provide 36 states with maritime commerce and mid-western farmers depend upon our ports and waterways to get their crops to market. Louisiana’s offshore industry provides up to 30 percent of the domestic seafood consumed in this country – shrimp, crawfish, oysters and many more. Much of our ecosystem and fishing fleet is destroyed. Finally, our coastal estuary is one of the most productive estuaries in the nation and supports the life of the majority of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.
I recognize and support the important oversight role and authority of this Committee. With that authority comes the extraordinary responsibility of acting quickly, decisively, and boldly to immediately provide the confidence to our citizens that a bigger, better New Orleans is open for business. We need to rebuild Louisiana so people are safe from future hurricanes. We need hurricane protection and levees that will sustain a category five hurricane. The only appropriate response to the protection of south Louisiana must include programmatic authority to implement strong hurricane protection and flood prevention that is critical to the rebuilding and economic recovery effort.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses. Thank you.