Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this very important hearing. Today’s hearing is a vital step in understanding the unique situation in south Louisiana and designing a new, innovative and effective program to move forward.
I would like to thank all of the witnesses for agreeing to testify before the Committee, especially Windell Curole who traveled from Louisiana to be with us today. I also look forward to discussing protection plans with the Corps here today -- George Dunlop and Major General Riley from the Army Corps of Engineers. The important point here is that the old system did not work and we should not be moving forward under the same structure.
Over the past few months, the devastation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has brought attention to how reliant our nation is on South Louisiana’s ports, energy resources, seafood, and trade. Americans have felt the economic impact through increased prices at the gas pump, higher payments for their electric and heating bills. Louisianans have felt the impact both economically and emotionally – they have lost their homes, their jobs, their communities.
Those are only some of the reasons why it is important that we rebuild Louisiana quickly - not only so Louisianans get their lives back together and return home, but also so Americans across the United States can feel relief in energy costs.
Louisianans want to come back home and our businesses want to rebuild but they need reassurance that their home will not wash away come the next storm. A comprehensive and integrated approach is necessary to rebuild and meet the water resources needs of coastal Louisiana. And integrated approach should include strong hurricane protection, flood prevention, ecosystem restoration and navigation.
We must make sure this never happens again. There is no reasonable timeline. We need the levees rebuilt now. We need stronger hurricane protection now. Rebuilding to “pre-Katrina conditions” is not an option. By June 2006 – the start of the next hurricane season - we need a stronger level of protection. It is the only option. Better design and better technology must be incorporated into our ongoing efforts.
We can not rebuild the same as before and expect different results. This time around we need better, stronger hurricane protection. Our hurricane protections need improvement with the use of better designs and technology. Coastal restoration efforts should be fully integrated with these protection efforts.
Two months before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, I sat before a Commerce Committee hurricane preparedness hearing and said that we could spend millions now preventing hurricane damage to south Louisiana or we could spend billions later responding to a major hurricane. Unfortunately, we have chosen the later. We must not make this mistake again. Congress has already responded to Hurricane Katrina by providing over $60 billion in emergency relief and approximately 1,000 of my constituents have lost their lives. Had we had an expedited Corps process and just a fraction of these funds, we could have virtually eliminated the need for this emergency relief spending.
Just as the traditional Corps project and appropriation process was inadequate before the storm, it is inadequate after the storm. 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 in an expedited manner.
In closing, I would like to reemphasize that we have already appropriated or provided tax incentives totaling twice the cost of fully armoring all of south Louisiana and fully restoring our coast. Our delegation had been fighting for this pro-active effort for years. Now that 1,000 lives have been lost and we have spent billions and billions of dollars -- and will spend much more -- let us act quickly and wisely in insuring we protect our citizens with a new process, a new program and a bright, new future for south Louisiana.
I look forward to working with the Committee and hearing from all of the witnesses on advancing a new, comprehensive, integrated, system-wide, streamlined and expedited program to address the hurricane, flood and coastal protection and navigation program for south Louisiana.