Welcome to this morning's hearings to receive testimony on the actions of EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the FHWA as they relate to Katrina. I would like to thank the witnesses for their testimony today.
Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, much has been said about what needs to be done with regard to relief efforts, but little has been said about how the federal government is going to pay for these efforts. As the Subcommittee Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, I had the pleasure of working for over 2-years on the newly signed law SAFETEA-LU. Some seem to be suggesting, in a time of broken roads and high fuel prices, that the government hijack the fuel taxes our citizens pay at the pump to fix their roads so they can spend it on other government programs. I have worked too long to keep the “trust” in the trust fund to support this. SAFETEA-LU provides for $100 million in emergency relief funding per state out of the Highway Trust Fund, and all excess funds are to come out of the General Fund. Since we can all estimate that the transportation costs from the hurricanes will substantially exceed $100 million, I am hopeful that the Administration will not choose to raid the Highway Trust Fund as the primary source of revenue for the emergency spending in the Gulf Region. While I am supportive of waiving the cap on emergency relief funding, I am very opposed to the raiding the Trust Fund to offset costs.
I look forward to the testimony of the Acting Administrator of the Federal Highway Administrator Richard Capka, and working with the Administration to rebuild and reconstruct the infrastructure networks of the Gulf Coast.
I also look forward to the testimony of Mr. Woodley and General Strock. If we had debated adequate flood protection for New Orleans before Katrina, it would have been decried as a pork-barreled boondoggle that needed to be studied and reviewed by EPA and Interior for years and decades, which it would then be litigated. After Katrina, we know that adequate flood control would have been a bargain saving lives and money. I hope the lesson we learn is that Congress should lead the effort to prevent crisis rather than rushing to respond to crisis. That's why we must follow regular order and pass a robust WRDA that that takes care of reasonable needs in the Gulf Coast Region.
Finally, I note the valuable missions the Corps of Engineers perform for this nation, another mission of the Corps I like to touch upon is the Corps' highly and heroically involvement with the Global War on Terror.
Over 500 civilian and military personnel from the Corps are currently serving in Iraq and 120 in Afghanistan while others are holding up the fort short-handed here at home. While it is a critical mission and obviously dangerous, it must be satisfying that the Corps can spend more time building infrastructure over there than simply studying and wrestling with red tape compliance as we often require here. In the Middle East, they are building bases, hospitals, training facility, barracks, power plants, water, and wastewater treatment plants. Currently, more than 2,700 projects are underway in Iraq. Faced with a highly-neglected power system under Saddam which allocated power to his cronies, the Corps has helped add to the grid enough capacity to service more than 5 million additional Iraqi homes.
Again, while the Corps is operating in the majority of provinces where there is very little violence, they are also operating in dangerous locations. When one wonders why America is the world's economic, military, and democratic leader, fundamentally, that question is answered regularly by this enduring quality known as the American spirit as witnessed by both our private citizens and these fine public servants.
I thank you and congratulate you.