Hearings - Statement
Statement of Thomas R. Carper
Hearing: Full Committee Hearing
Actions of EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration as they relate to Hurricane Katrina
Thursday, October 6, 2005

I am pleased that the Committee has called this hearing. The Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Highway Administration are at the heart of the recovery effort along the Gulf Coast. Guidance from these agencies will be essential to us in Congress as to how best to rebuild. Of particular interest to me is the New Orleans levee system. Clearly, it was not strong enough to handle a major hurricane. Many of us want to know why. Was it caused by the way the Corps prioritizes projects or conducts their cost-benefit analysis? Was it the way the Administration or Congress funded the Corps over the past couple of decades? And in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, how can we protect this valuable port, energy producer and cultural asset from increasingly busy and fierce hurricane seasons? There are further concerns that the levees did not even perform as they were designed to. If that is the case, we are going to need to figure out how that occurred. But even more, we will need to review flood control projects across the nation to ensure we have the protection we expect. As we consider ways to improve the flood control system in New Orleans, we need to make sure that any such project will work with efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands. The Corps has historically considered such projects as environmental restoration projects, not flood control. But wetlands are essential to reducing storm surge and soaking up floodwater, reducing the vulnerability of communities in places like southern Louisiana. Separating wetlands restoration and levee projects could result in billions being spent on a new levee system that would merely subside and stand increasingly vulnerable to storm surges from the Gulf, due to continued coastal erosion. Thankfully, the Corps has been open to making changes in the way priorities are set and needs identified, and I look forward to working with you all as the recovery effort moves forward. It is also good that we have someone here from the Environmental Protection Agency, as there continues to be confusion as to whether the EPA has the waiver authority it needs to help the Gulf Coast recover. We have heard from Administrator Johnson that the EPA has all the authority it needs. Further, the EPA’s role in the recovery effort is to ensure that the affected areas are cleaned up and safe for people to come back to their homes. That being the case, it is worrisome that some are talking about waiving more environmental standards. Yet, efforts continue in the Senate to do just this. I certainly hope the EPA can clear up this issue today. Finally, the Department of Transportation generally has a huge task ahead of it, certainly in terms of fixing damaged transportation infrastructure. But also in providing displaced workers with access to their jobs. Some businesses in New Orleans and the surrounding area are reopening, while their employees are still unable to return to their homes (200,000 in Baton Rouge alone). Further, some businesses have temporarily located in Baton Rouge, but many of their employees have returned to their homes in Algiers and Uptown. Ensuring that people have access to their jobs is essential in speeding the recovery in this area. Further, providing this mobility in spite of an estimated 200,000 lost personal automobiles will require creativity. But recent news of the consideration of intercity buses and commuter rail shows that such creativity is being employed, and I look forward to hearing more about this.



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