Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee Hearing entitled, "Water Resources Development Act of 2010: Jobs and Economic Opportunities."
Thursday, May 6, 2010 - 9:30 a.m.
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing, and thank you to all the witnesses for joining us this morning. Before I get into my statement, I just want to say that I support the Chair's intent to move a Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, this year. Regularly enacted WRDA bills provide the best opportunities to address our nation's water resources infrastructure needs.
The purpose of today's hearing is to discuss the job creation and economic development benefits associated with the kinds of water resources projects and policies typically authorized in a WRDA and carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
It took seven years to enact the last WRDA (WRDA 2007), with detractors making two main arguments. First, there were complaints that Corps projects are a waste of taxpayer dollars. I couldn't disagree more.
This year I again was ranked by National Journal as the most conservative Senator, and I certainly take fiscal responsibility seriously. I firmly believe, however, that the two things the federal government should invest in are national defense and public infrastructure. Investments in infrastructure - including water resources infrastructure such as navigation channels, ports, flood control, and hurricane protection measures - not only have short-term job creation benefits, but more importantly, they help bring about long-term economic development opportunities. This dual benefit is one reason I tried to get a greater percentage of the stimulus dollars directed to infrastructure. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Our witnesses today will discuss the economic contributions these infrastructure projects make from the national perspective, but I'd like to take a moment to talk about my home state of Oklahoma. Many people think of Oklahoma as completely landlocked, but we actually have a very successful port in Tulsa, called the Port of Catoosa. It is a combined port, industrial park, and multi-modal shipping complex, currently with more than 60 companies employing nearly 3,000 employees.
The port lies at the head of navigation for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which stretches 445 miles to the Mississippi River. More than 11.6 million tons were shipped on the McClellan-Kerr in 2009, with about 18% of that total going through the Port of Catoosa. Prior to the economic downturn, the system often carried closer to 13 million tons in an average year. This cargo typically consists of sand and rock, fertilizer, wheat, raw steel, and refined petroleum products.
The navigation system, as well as other Corps facilities elsewhere in Oklahoma, also contributes economically by providing flood protection, clean and affordable hydroelectric power, and recreation opportunities for local communities. None of this economic activity would have been realized if the federal government, through the Corps of Engineers, hadn't decided in 1946 to invest in this waterway.
The second main argument against WRDA 2007 was that it contained earmarks and therefore was simply full of "pork projects." Again, I must disagree with the reasoning of some of my colleagues.
Yes, WRDA includes authorizations and modifications of specific projects. But these so-called "earmarks" are the first step in the well-established authorization and appropriations process. One of the best checks on out-of-control spending is limiting funding to only those projects and programs that have been authorized properly. In fact, I have objected many times to unauthorized items being funded in appropriations bills, as well as to authorization language being included in appropriations bills.
The authorization process, and EPW as an authorizing committee, provides the first Congressional review of projects and programs to ensure that only legitimate needs that have a federal interest are eligible for funding consideration. One question EPW has traditionally asked when considering WRDA requests is, "Does the project have a Chief's Report?" The Corps issues Chief's Reports for only those projects shown to have national benefits in excess of project costs. Once projects are authorized, it is then up to the appropriations process to determine priorities for funding.
For these reasons and others, I am a strong supporter of investment in infrastructure and of the importance of working on a WRDA. I am pleased to have the Committee turn to this bipartisan issue that can have significant economic benefits, and I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses.