As Prepared for Delivery:
Yesterday I talked about all the things that won’t happen if we don’t pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.
Without this bill:
- 29 Navigation, Flood Control, and Environmental Restoration projects will not happen.
- There will be no new Corps reforms to let local sponsors improve infrastructure at their own expense.
- There will be no FEMA assistance to states to rehabilitate unsafe dams.
- There will be no reforms to help communities address Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water infrastructure mandates.
- There will be no new assistance for innovative approaches to Clean Water and Drinking Water needs, to address drought and water supply issues.
- There will no protection for coal utilities from runaway coal ash lawsuits
Today, I want to make sure each member of this body understands the importance of these projects and programs.
Marine Transportation Waterway System
40 states are directly served by ports and waterways maintained by the Corps of Engineers. This system handles over 2.3 billion tons of freight each year. This is commerce that is critical to the U.S. economy.
We have to keep our water transportation system operational.
For example, the Senior Vice President of Marathon Petroleum Corporation told the EPW Committee that they have a number of situations up and down the Ohio River where lock gates have failed to function, and Marathon’s barges were stopped for 50, 60 days at a cost of millions of dollars. He told us there was one lock where the gate literally fell off that took months to repair.
This is a lock on the Ohio River that was well past its operational design life and in dire need of repair. This is not a problem exclusive to the Ohio River, but exists on most major locks throughout our inland waterway system. Many of these projects are experiencing the slow creep of Federal inaction.
Under current law, a local sponsor, like a Port has to wait for the Corps to get federal appropriations and issue federal contracts before locks and dams and Ports can be maintained – even when a lock gate is literally falling off. Under current law, they are not allowed to use their own money to help out.
The Corps’ maintenance budget is stretched thin so WRDA 2016 comes up with a new solution. In the WRDA bill we let local sponsors, like Ports, either give money to the Corps to carry out maintenance, or do their own maintenance, using their own dollars.
We also have to modernize our Ports.
We must invest in our Nation’s ports now so American ports can handle larger Post-Panamax vessels.
This is a picture of current Panamax vessels in the bottom and the new post-Panamax vessels on the top. As you can see, post-Panamax vessels can handle double the cargo of their predecessors. This increase in cargo volume means cheaper shipping costs which translates into cheaper costs for consumers. But in order to achieve this, we have to deepen our nation’s strategic ports to accommodate post-Panamax vessels.
WRDA 2016 has a number of provisions that will ensure we grow the economy, increase our competitiveness in the global marketplace, and promote long-term prosperity.
These provisions include important harbor deepening projects for Charleston, SC and Port Everglades, FL and Brownsville, TX.
This is the Charleston Harbor, which is authorized to be deepened under this bill. Senators Graham and Scott have been strong advocates of this project, realizing the regional and national benefits the project has, but not passing WRDA puts this project back on the shelf. It also puts America at a disadvantage in the global marketplace forcing post-Panamax vessels to take off containers in order to safely enter the harbor, costing shippers millions of dollars, costs that are passed on to the consumer. We cannot afford to pass up this opportunity to better prepare our nation’s ports.
Let’s start with levees. The Corps has built 14,700 miles of levees that protect billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and homes. Corps projects prevent nearly $50 billion a year in damages. Many of these levees were built a long time ago. Some have failed recently.
This is a levee in Iowa that was overtopped and eventually breached by disastrous floodwaters. In many cases, levees like this one were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers decades ago, but no longer meet the Corps’ post-Katrina engineering and design guidelines.
Also, FEMA has decided that many of these levees don’t meet FEMA flood insurance standards. Even though they own the levees, a levee district needs permission from the Corps to upgrade a levee to meet FEMA standards. Several members of this body have told me that their local levee districts are caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare when they try to get that permission from the Corps.
In WRDA 2016, we are streamlining the process to allow levee districts improve their own levees, using their own money.
There also is an issue with how the Corps rebuilds levees that have been damaged by a flood. Right now the Corps will only rebuild to the preexisting level of protection, which may be inadequate and may not meet FEMA standards.
Albert Einstein defined insanity by, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To stop the insanity of wasting federal dollars by rebuilding the same inadequate levee over and over WRDA 2016 allows local levee districts to increase the level of flood protection – at their expense – when the Corps is rebuilding a levee after a flood.
Now let’s talk about dams.
According to the Corps’ National Inventory of Dams, there are 14,726 high hazard potential dams in the U.S. This means if the dam fails, people will die.
This is a picture of a dam in Iowa that failed in June 2010 after the area received 10 inches of rain. We can avoid disasters like this by making the necessary investments in our water resources infrastructure. By not passing WRDA, we leave communities like this one and many others throughout the country vulnerable to catastrophic events.
WRDA 2016 helps avoid disasters like this by providing two new dam safety programs.
One is operated by FEMA to support state dam safety programs and one is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to support tribes.
EPA Clean Water and Drinking Water Mandates.
Communities around the country are trying to keep up with more and more federal mandates coming from the EPA. I had to deal with this as Mayor of Tulsa. Even though our water is much cleaner and our drinking water is much safer than it was 30 or 40 years ago, EPA keeps adding more and more regulations. New EPA mandates chase smaller and smaller benefits at higher and higher costs. These new mandates drive up our water and sewer bills to the point that they become unaffordable for many families. Under threat of EPA penalties, communities can be forced to choose between meeting new unfunded Federal mandates or keeping up with basic maintenance, repair, and replacement activities that keep our drinking water and wastewater systems operational.
If we don’t maintain our infrastructure, it will fail, like this water main in Philadelphia. If we don’t replace our infrastructure, aging sewer pipes will leak and result in sewer overflows.
Atlanta, Omaha, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston – communities all around the country are facing these problems.
These sewer projects are huge and very costly. For example, here is a picture of the tunnel that is being built here in DC as part of a $2.6 billion project to address sewer overflows.
The WRDA bill, S. 2848, addresses these issues in two ways: Targeted federal assistance and tools that empower local governments.
In our 2016 WRDA bill, we provide $70 million to capitalize WIFIA to help communities all over the country with low cost loans.
WIFIA is very cost effective way to provide federal assistance. With just $70 million in federal funds, we can provide up to $4.2 billion in secured loans. Those loans must be matched by another $4.4 billion, so the $70 million federal investment will result in $8.6 billion in infrastructure. This funding is fully offset by reductions in DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.
While the federal assistance in the bill is targeted, all communities need tools to fight back when EPA enforcement officials try to take control of their water and sewer systems. The WRDA bill requires EPA to update its affordability guidance so when EPA imposes costly sewer upgrades on a community EPA will have to consider the real impacts on real households, including low income households.
WRDA includes compromise legislation that we have negotiated with Senator Boxer and others on the EPW committee to authorize state permit programs to manage fly ash from coal-fired power plants.
Coal ash is a critical ingredient for making concrete for roads and bridges. It is more durable and less expensive than alternatives and many states actually require coal ash to be used in their highway projects.
When EPA’s coal ash rule went into effect last October, it created huge uncertainty for both the disposal and the beneficial use of coal ash because, unlike any other environmental regulation, EPA’s rule is enforced through citizen lawsuits.
This bill fixes that by giving states the authority to issue state coal ash permits that will provide protection from citizen suits.
There is a tremendous amount in this bill that is important to every state in this country. I urge all members to support WRDA 2016.