Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Jeffords, thank you for having this hearing today on Hurricane Katrina. I appreciate the witnesses for being here too. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration play a critical role in not only the response and clean-up efforts but also in rebuilding New Orleans and the surrounding affected parishes after Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina is an unprecedented disaster. Never before has a major, modern American city been fully evacuated and a major region of the country shut down -- including all sources of revenue.
Some Americans view Katrina as a parochial disaster --a problem for Louisiana. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has filled their gas tank, paid their utility bill or purchased products or services with an "energy surcharge" knows that this is not a just a natural disaster, but a national disaster.
Rebuilding Louisiana even better than it was before will truly benefit our entire US economy. Louisiana is home to the largest port system in the world. 36 states rely upon our ports for maritime commerce. Up to 70 percent of the crops from our mid-western farmers are dependent upon our ports to get their products to market. Louisiana is the second largest producer of domestic seafood. Between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it has been estimated that up to one-third of our domestic fishing fleet is damaged or destroyed. Energy prices have spiked; our domestic fishermen have been devastated and our farmers have no way to get their crops to foreign markets.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and Federal Highway Administration play key roles in ensuring the environment of New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana are safe to return to, a secure level of hurricane protection is in place, and roads and infrastructure are in place to move people safely in and out of the area. It is important that the agencies work this process quickly and efficiently so that we do not risk this devastation happening again during future hurricanes.
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. I can not stress enough how the people of Louisiana need to feel safe before they move back home - drastically improved hurricane protection and flood prevention is mandatory. We are at a crucial point and the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and Federal Highway Administration need to continue to take action to ensure New Orleans and the surrounding parishes are safe for people to move back.
Lake Pontchartrain is one of America’s significant bodies of water. As a freshman in Congress, one of the first pieces of legislation I introduced and passed was the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act of 1999 to establish this program within the Environmental Protection Agency. The purpose was to give Lake Pontchartrain the same status as other nationally significant restoration efforts. Over the past four years, I have secured nearly $18 million for work in the basin. I am very concerned about the possible effects the returned discharged water will have on Lake Pontchartrain. I look forward to hearing from the Deputy Administrator about the precautions taken by the EPA to ensure the pollution level is kept at a minimum. Vital transportation infrastructure which is heavily relied upon by the residents of the North and South shore of Lake Pontchartrain – the I-10 “Twin-Span” Bridges – were damaged by the full force of Hurricane Katrina. To rebuild the Twin-Span Bridges the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development needs federal emergency transportation relief assistance.
That is why I, along with Chairman Inhofe, and other Environment and Public Works Committee members introduced S. 1714. This piece of legislation will provide $2.9 billion in emergency transportation relief to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. It is critical that our states receive this funding to rebuild our transportation infrastructure. I look forward to hearing from Acting Administrator Richard Capka on the response taken by the Federal Highway Administration after Hurricane Katrina.
We all need to work together and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about where the agencies are with the response and where they are going from here to continue their progress in an expedited fashion to rebuild Louisiana.