U.S. Senate Committee
on Environment and Public Works
Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman,
Committee on Environment and Public Works
The Water Resources Development Act Of 2007
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Mr. President, I am pleased to bring to the floor the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. This important legislation authorizes the projects and policies of the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers and it is supported by my Ranking Member, Senator Inhofe, and the entire Environment and Public Works Committee.
After nearly 7 years, we are bound and determined to pass this urgent WRDA bill and get it to the President for his signature.
In a few moments, I will get to a discussion of the bill and its critical importance to our nation’s economy, public safety, and environment, but first I want to start by saying thank you to Senator Inhofe.
It is true, Mr. President, that Senator Inhofe and I have our differences. Indeed, most every week in the Environment and Public Works Committee, he and I lock horns on a host of issues dealing with the environment.
But it is also true, Mr. President, that he and I work together closely on infrastructure issues.
Senator Inhofe and I share a commitment to shoring up our nation’s infrastructure, including its water resources. We have a true partnership on this issue.
The bill before the Senate is a product of that commitment, and a product of that partnership.
Again, I thank him for his hard work on this bill.
I also want to thank the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman and Ranking Member. Senators Baucus and Isakson have been a very important part of our team, helping to put this great package together.
I also want to take a moment to extend my sincere appreciation to all the members of the Committee, many of whom went to Louisiana with me for see for themselves the infrastructure needs there.
Senators Landrieu and Vitter were determined to show us their needs and they did, and this bill will be a great help to Louisiana.
I now want to thank our incomparable staff.
First, on my Committee staff, I want to thank my Staff Director Bettina Poirier, and my Deputy Staff Director Ken Kopocis, Jeff Rosato, and Tyler Rushforth for all their work.
On Senator Inhofe’s Staff, I want to thank Andrew Wheeler, Ruth Van Mark, Angie Giancarlo, and Let Mon Lee. Additionally, I want to thank Jo-Ellen Darcy and Paul Wilkins with Senator Baucus and Mike Quiello with Senator Isakson.
They deserve recognition for their commitment to this product. We have had many late hour fretful calls.
Mr. President, today is the start of a new day, and I believe we are now on track to restore the regular process of meeting the nation’s water resources needs as they arise.
And we can all agree that WRDA has gotten way off track. Indeed, the bill before us represents the collective work of nearly seven long years.
I think we can agree that seven years is far too long to wait for a bill that authorizes essential flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects.
Seven years! That is seven years of projects being ready to go, yet unable to begin because for whatever reason, we failed to finish the work on this bill.
This means seven years of communities waiting to shore up their infrastructure needs—many of them vital to protecting families and homes from catastrophic flooding.
Seven years also means that there are a LOT of projects in this bill. That is the cost of waiting so long to act.
Yet, I am proud to tell my colleagues, that despite that length of time—and the number of projects—Senators Inhofe, Baucus, Isakson and I, have a crafted a bill that costs LESS than the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month.
Let me repeat that: the bill before the Senate is less expensive than the bill passed by the House.
The original Senate bill had some ambiguous language that drove up the score, but working together across party lines, we corrected the problem.
Colleagues, as you can imagine, that was not an easy thing to accomplish. It took hard decisions and much discipline to get to this result. But, working cooperatively and in a bipartisan way, we did it.
We have a bill that meets our communities’ and our nation’s acute and unmet water infrastructure needs and it does it in a fiscally responsible way.
I would like to take a few moments now and go through what the bill does.
Title I would authorize 44 projects consistent with completed Chief of Engineers reports, including flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects.
These Chief Reports are the result of years of engineering, science, economic analysis, and environmental assessments. Hours of Corps Engineers’ work and expertise go into preparing these documents, concluding with the final review of the Chief of Engineers.
Title I also would authorize new locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System and the concurrent ecosystem restoration plan for those waters.
This project is important to waterway goods movement, particularly grain, from the Heartland of America.
Title I also includes authorization for the Louisiana Coastal Area ecosystem restoration program to reverse wetland losses and provide hurricane and storm damage reduction benefits. I will discuss this issue in more depth at a later time.
Finally, Title I includes small projects for flood damage reduction, navigation, and aquatic ecosystem restoration under the continuing authority programs of the Corps.
Title II would make policy changes in Corps of Engineers authorities in how it carries out its programs.
Title II contains the administrative provisions that are commonly referred to as “Corps Reform.”
These important provisions include updates in the Corps’ planning process, the water resources planning coordinating committee, independent peer review, and improvements to the Corps’ mitigation program.
In short, these provisions will help ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers does its job more effectively and soundly, and require, in many cases, an extra pair of expert eyes on its projects. I want to thank Senator Feingold for his hard work here.
Title II also contains the authorization for the National Levee Safety Program, a new program that helps identify failing levees, and provides Corps resources and expertise to help improve and repair these levees.
Title III includes provisions that would affect existing ongoing or completed projects. These sections include making modifications to project cost-ceilings, modifying project purposes, changing project boundaries, extending authorizations for annual programs, and correcting original deficiencies.
Title IV includes authorizations for new project studies. It also would make modifications to ongoing studies.
Title V includes modifications to the Estuary Restoration Act of 2000, an existing restoration program of the Corps. It also includes programmatic authorities for regional approaches to water resources problem.
Title VI would deauthorize all or portions of 52 previously authorized Corps projects. The deauthorizations represent projects or portions of projects that are no longer supported by local interests.
That is a brief overview of this bill—it only begins to express the bill’s importance to our communities, families, and our nation.
The bill is about authorizing projects our communities need to help protect thousands of homes and the lives of millions from catastrophic flooding.
The bill is about authorizing projects our communities need to help restore the great wetlands, estuaries, and rivers of our nation. These are the places in which wildlife thrives, and our families can enjoy for generations.
Indeed, as hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and other outdoor industries boom, this bill is an important part of keeping America’s “recreation economy” thriving.
The bill makes other important contributions to our nation’s economy.
It authorizes projects our communities need to help increase our port and waterway capacity and make shipping easier, safer, and more efficient—It literally helps keep America’s economy moving.
Indeed, in so many ways, America’s economy is dependent on it water resources. Let me give just a few examples now.
America’s ports and harbors are our gateway to the world. Our manufactured goods, such as automobiles and computer chips and our agricultural goods such as grains, wines, and fruit pass through our ports and harbors to be sold around the world.
Indeed, goods worth $5.5 billion pass through our ports each day and more than 2.5 billion tons of trade move through our ports and waterways each year—colleagues, that volume is expected to double over the next 15 years.
That also means thousands of new jobs, right here in the United States. Already, America’s port economy is responsible for approximately 5 million jobs.
WRDA is essential to ensuring that the nation’s waterways can continue to play a role in goods movement.
Additionally, the Corps of Engineers is the Nation's largest provider of outdoor recreation, operating more than 2,500 recreation areas at 463 projects and leasing an additional 1,800 sites to State or local park and recreation authorities or private interests.
At these projects around the country, the Corps hosts about 360 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches and other areas. It is estimated that one-in-ten Americans--25 million people—visit a Corps project at least once a year. This generates 600,000 jobs to support visitors to these recreation areas.
Colleagues, we can all agree that public health and safety, economic growth, and environmental protection are important national goals—this bill helps us achieve them.
Before I conclude my opening statement, I would like to inform the Senate of the steps my committee took to ensure that the bill we are considering today meets the spirit of the ethics legislation we passed at the beginning of the year.
Though the Senate’s new ethics and disclosure rules have yet to formally take effect, Senator Inhofe and I believed that it was important to set a good example and take steps to ensure that no member had a pecuniary interest in any project authorized by this bill.
Anticipating the new rules, we required every member of the Senate who made a request for a project to certify that they had no such interest.
The Committee has also produced for the record an updated listing of the proponent of every project-related item in the substitute text.
Mr. President, one of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina is that we ignore our water infrastructure needs at our nation’s peril. We cannot allow this long a period of time to lapse between reauthorizing such an important bill and we will not.
Indeed, I hope to work with Senator Inhofe and all my colleagues to prepare another WRDA bill next year, and then continue on the regular biennial WRDA cycle that was customary practice for many years.
As the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I am proud of what we have accomplished.
Over the coming hours, I will be talking about some of the real world examples of what is at stake in this bill: public health and safety, economic growth and viability and environmental protection.
Among other issues, I will discuss in depth the tragedy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and how the lessons of that great national tragedy can help save other communities, including the capital city of my home state, Sacramento.
I look forward to working on the bill with all of my colleagues, and sharing the urgency of swiftly passing, conferencing, and enacting this legislation.
One last point—because of the delicate balance in this bill—the long hours of give and take—the four lead cosponsors—myself, Senator Inhofe, Senator Baucus, and Senator Isakson will be opposing all amendments if any one of us has a problem with it.
We all feel that the legislation is so important that we decided to keep it close to the product we all agreed upon.