Mr. Chairman, thank you for having this hearing, and, Mr. Johnson, we appreciate your being here today. The work of the EPA is very important in Louisiana, and I look forward to continuing to build on that work.
One of the best examples of the EPA’s work in Louisiana is the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a 5,000 square mile watershed encompassing 16 parishes in Louisiana and 4 counties in Mississippi. Lake Pontchartrain is the second largest lake in the United States after the Great Lakes and its 1.5 million residents make it the most populated area in the state of Louisiana.
In 2000, Congress passed the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act, which was my first bill to pass Congress. This program puts Lake Pontchartrain’s restoration on the same status as other the restoration of other environmentally-sensitive areas in our Nation, such as the Great Lakes and Florida Everglades restoration efforts. In addition, this program also created a partnership between the federal government and local stakeholders to further efforts to clean up the lake. The EPA is an active member of the Lake Pontchartrain Stakeholders’ Conference and is the chief federal agency involved in the program.
A great deal has been accomplished since the program began. There has been significant improvement in the water clarity in Lake Pontchartrain. We have seen the return of manatees, pelicans, oysters, clams and blue crabs to the lake. “NO SWIMMING” signs are coming down and beaches are being reopened. There has been an improvement in water quality on the south shore, however the same can not yet be said of the north shore and the upper basin. Growing suburbs and inconsistent urban planning has dramatically increased pollution as well as affected some sensitive habitats.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program has made great progress in cleaning up Lake Pontchartrain. We have come so far, but there is still much to be done. Various water-quality studies within the Lake Pontchartrain Basin have been conducted in recent years. While these studies have helped provide solutions to clean the Lake, we must move to the next phase: construction.
I intend to introduce soon legislation soon that will not only reauthorize this important program but also allow funding to be used for construction much needed watershed projects. I am working with Senator Lott, because Mississippi is an important part of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, and my colleague from Louisiana, Senator Landrieu, to draft this legislation. I look forward to working with the Chairman and the rest of the committee to reauthorize this important program.
I wanted to bring up another issue important to Louisiana: ozone non-attainment in Baton Rouge. As we move from a one-hour ozone standard to a more stringent eight-hour standard, Baton Rouge’s classification could move from severe to marginal. Yet, under current law, even as that improvement happens, Baton Rouge will still be held to the existing severe restrictions under the old one-hour standard.
This situation seems inconsistent with the goal of cleaner air and nonsensical. Also, it creates litigation, which is ongoing and continuing to add costs and more delays in work to actually cleaning the air. I think this example proves that there is need for increased flexibility and for more efficiency and cost-effectiveness in cleaning up our air and meeting more stringent standards.
Also, I have read recent reports that the town of El Dorado, Arkansas, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to allow a project that will dump millions of gallons of wastewater into the Ouachita River in Louisiana.
If this proposed project is approved as proposed, it would mean that, everyday, twenty million gallons would be dumped into a river that flows through central Louisiana and into the Atchafalaya Basin. To have that much waste flowing into this river—a river that is vital to Louisiana’s environment, economy, and culture—is unacceptable to us in Louisiana.