This WRDA bill authorizes and modifies numerous critical projects in the areas of navigation, flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction and environmental restoration. The bill also includes many important policy provisions for the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current process.
As many Members and their constituents are well aware, this is actually WRDA 2002, 2004, 2006 and now 2007 all rolled into one. This bill should have been enacted in 2002, but unfortunately, we couldn’t even get a bill through Committee here in the Senate. We tried again the next Congress, but couldn’t complete action on it in 2004, either. Last Congress, we got all the way to a conference with the House and made significant progress towards a final bill, but simply ran out of time. This year, however, we were able to build on last year’s progress and bring a conference report back to both chambers. On August 1st, the House of Representatives resoundingly approved the conference report, and I hope the Senate will do the same today.
Mr. President, we have received word that President Bush intends to veto this bill because in the Administration’s view, it is too big. I was very disappointed to hear that. It is an unfortunate fact of life that when infrastructure bills are debated, we first have to battle back the charge that all we are doing is authorizing or funding unneeded projects. Let’s look at the facts. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure, none of the nation’s primary infrastructure, such as roads, airports, drinking water facilities, and wastewater managements systems, get above a C and most receive a D. We are quickly approaching a crisis that if ignored will not only dramatically stunt continued economic growth, but will put people’s lives at risk.
As the most fiscally conservative member of the United States Senate, as ranked by the American Conservative Union, I have long argued that the two most important functions of the federal government are to provide for the national defense and to develop and improve public infrastructure. That means I am not shy about voting for increased authorization and spending on national defense needs or public infrastructure. Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was one wake up call as to the tragic consequences of ignoring or shortchanging our nation’s infrastructure needs. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis last month is another example of why we cannot take our aging infrastructure for granted. Investments in infrastructure prior to any disasters can actually save us money. For instance, during this summer’s flooding events in the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas region, Corps of Engineers projects prevented an estimated $5.4 billion in damages. We must be willing to spend sufficient taxpayer dollars to properly maintain, repair and replace our critical infrastructure.
At the same time, we certainly must spend limited taxpayer dollars wisely. The way to ensure wise use of taxpayer dollars is to follow the full authorization-appropriations process. The issue here is not about the WRDA bill, it’s about the authorization process. Authorization is the best tool we have for keeping discipline over the annual appropriations process. Without regularly enacted WRDA bills, the Appropriations Committee faces enormous pressure to use the annual spending bills to authorize and fund projects that haven’t gone through a full Congressional review. The authorization committees, such as the Environment and Public Works Committee, should provide the first Congressional review, and that is what we have done with the WRDA bill before the Senate today. Most Members would be quick to tell you that we certainly did not include every project request we received. We reviewed each request and made a determination as to whether it merited authorization. This bill allows certain projects to get in line for funding; it does not actually fund any projects. Every day that goes by without enacting a WRDA bill is another day we allow unnecessary pressure to build on the appropriators to short-circuit the authorization-then-appropriations process.
Instead of simply arguing over whether or not the estimated total authorization level of this bill is too high, I’d like to take a minute to highlight some of the items in the bill that contribute to a higher number. First, approximately 40 percent of the cost of this bill can be accounted for in just four locations – Louisiana, the Everglades, the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System and California.
The conference report before us authorizes several billion dollars worth of flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction and coastal restoration activities for southern Louisiana. I am pleased that we were able to reach agreement on these provisions designed to help Louisiana recover from the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and provide additional protection from future storms. The conference report addresses several immediate needs and also establishes a process for moving future projects forward in an efficient and expeditious manner. I would note that we would not have been able to get as much done as we did without the able help and cooperation of Senator Vitter, who has done an admirable job of representing his State as a member of the EPW Committee and as a WRDA conferee.
This conference report also authorizes approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars of Federal investment for three components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. As many Members know, when this plan was authorized back in 2000, I was the lone “No” vote here in the Senate. One of the main reasons I voted against it was because I did not believe we had a proper report; we did not have a good enough idea of what we were going to do to justify authorizing a then $8 billion plan. Since then, however, we have received Chief’s Reports for three components of the plan. These Chief’s Reports give us the details we need on these components to know that it is appropriate to authorize at this time. Therefore, I was willing to support inclusion of these three components in this bill.
We also are authorizing $3.9 billion for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System -- $2.2 billion for desperately needed navigation improvements and $1.7 billion for an environmental restoration program to address damages incurred as a result of previous navigation and flood control activities along these rivers. This authorization is the next step in permitting modernization of the Depression-era Mississippi River locks built for paddle wheel boats. It is a long overdue investment in jobs, trade competitiveness, and environmental protection. Sixty percent of all grain exports moves through these obsolete locks. Given the congestion on our nation’s highways, we need to be developing and maintaining alternative ways to move freight. Since a single medium-sized barge tow carries the same freight as 870 trucks, the cost, pollution, and fuel efficiency benefits should be obvious to all.
This conference report also authorizes a critical $444 million flood damage reduction project at Folsom Dam in California. This project will help provide much needed protection for the Sacramento region. Sacramento currently is the major metropolitan area with the most limited level of flood protection in the nation. Providing adequate flood protection in this area will not only benefit the people and businesses of Sacramento, but it will also help protect the drinking water supply for two-thirds of the population of the entire State.
The bill contains additional authorizations and modifications of projects that, while smaller in size, are just as vital to the continued safety and prosperity of the affected local and regional communities. Is this a perfect bill? No, of course not, but it certainly goes a long ways towards addressing our nation’s water resources needs in a reasonable and responsible manner.
Finally, I would like to comment on the Corps Reform provisions. While I do not necessarily agree with each provision, I do believe we have been able to reach a reasonable and workable compromise. The language contained in the conference report improves on the language in the House and Senate passed bills. I know there are some who will complain that these provisions do not go far enough. There are others who will complain that these provisions go too far and will unnecessarily hamstring the Corps of Engineers and further delay future infrastructure improvements. To me, that means the Conference Committee has probably done a pretty good job of putting in place a process that ensures the technical and scientific validity of Corps projects while also allowing us to find solutions to our water resources needs and problems in a less time-consuming and burdensome manner.
Before I yield the floor, I’d like to take just a minute to thank my colleagues with whom I have worked for so long to get this bill done. When I was Chairman of the EPW Committee, Senator Boxer was quite involved and helpful, and I was very pleased this year when, as the new Chairman, she made completing a WRDA bill a high priority of hers as well. Senators Baucus and Isakson, as leaders of the subcommittee, have been invaluable in helping to find solutions whenever we started to get bogged down in negotiations. Our friends in the House, especially Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Oberstar and Ranking Member Mica and Ms. Johnson and Mr. Baker of the subcommittee, also worked diligently and cooperatively with us throughout this entire process.
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of all the staff involved. In my office, Andrew Wheeler, Ruth Van Mark, Angie Giancarlo and Let Mon Lee; with Senator Isakson, Mike Quiello; in Senator Boxer’s office, Ken Kopocis, Jeff Rosato and Tyler Rushforth; with Senator Baucus, Jo-Ellen Darcy and Paul Wilkins; on the House side, John Anderson and Geoff Bowman for the Republicans and Ryan Seiger, Ted Illston and Beth Goldstein for the Democrats. I also want to note the long and tireless work of a few people in the Senate and House Legislative Counsels offices – on the Senate side, Heather Arpin has been wonderful throughout this entire process; on the House side, David Mendelsohn, Curt Haensel and Rosemary Gallagher were invaluable during conference.
Mr. President, I will close by reiterating my strong support for this conference report to accompany H.R. 1495, the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. I urge my colleagues to vote to pass this critically important infrastructure authorization bill.