As Prepared for Delivery:
Last week you heard me talk about the WRDA bill—and why it is so important to pass now.
I have heard a lot of talk that because the current WRDA authorization does not expire until 2017 this is not must-pass legislation. That could not be further from the truth.
Just take a look at some of the major news stories from the past few months.
Earlier this summer we saw algae wash up on beaches in Florida. This is a problem that will have a significant impact to the health of Floridians, as well as negatively impact Florida’s biggest industry, tourism. WRDA 2016 has a solution to the problem. We have a project that will fix Lake Okeechobee and prevent this problem in the future.
Anyone who knows me knows that I generally don’t like Everglades projects but Senator Rubio has convinced me that this project is critical for the safety of Florida’s citizens as well as its economy. This is a picture of the algae blooms caused by deteriorating water conditions. Not only are these blooms environmentally hazardous, but they’re also economically debilitating to communities living along South Florida’s “working coastline.” Communities along the coast depend on clean freshwater flows to drive tourism, but as these blooms spread along the coast, economic development is negatively impacted. If we don’t authorize the Central Everglades Planning Project, those communities will cease to exist.
Just weeks ago we also saw historic flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We have seen communities destroyed and lives turned upside-down. In this WRDA bill there are two ongoing Corps projects that will prevent the damages we saw. WRDA 2016 directs the Corps to expedite the completion of these projects. We can no longer use a fix-as-it fails approach to America’s flood control, there is just too much on the line. I am not just talking about the economic losses regions face after a devastating flood. We are talking about the loss of human life. Not acting is not an option.
Last year, there were several collisions in the Houston Ship Channel. Due to a design deficiency, the channel is too narrow and the Coast Guard has declared it to be a “precautionary zone.” Without this bill, the navigation safety project to correct this problem won’t move forward.
Last week I spoke about what we will lose if we don’t pass this important legislation.
- 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
These are not State problems, or even regional problems, what we have here is a bill that addresses problems faced by our Nation as a whole.
And to reiterate how important this bill is I want to give a few more real world examples to show you how the problems we are facing now are affecting our citizens, the people who sent us to Washington to serve and protect their interest.
The water resources part of the bill expands our economy and protects infrastructure and lives by authorizing new navigation, flood control and ecosystem restoration projects – all based on a recommendation from the Corps of Engineers and a determination that the projects will provide significant national benefits.
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. WRDA 2016 will end the bureaucratic nightmare local levee districts face by allowing them to increase the level of flood protection – at their own expense- when the Corps is rebuilding after a flood.
Now let’s talk about the economic benefits of investing in our Nation’s Port and Inland Waterway system.
We need to invest in our Ports and inland Waterway system to keep the cost of goods low, create good paying jobs and to help America stay competitive with the rest of the world, while promoting long term prosperity. 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.
Everyone knows 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.
The drinking water and clean water part of the bill provides federal assistance to communities facing unaffordable EPA Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Act mandates. WRDA 2016 targets these federal dollars to those who need it most and include: Assistance for small and disadvantaged communities with a priority for underserved communities that lack basic drinking water infrastructure. Assistance for lead service line replacement with a priority for disadvantaged communities Assistance to address very costly sewer overflow issues.
It’s noteworthy to mention that all the spending in this bill is either subject to Budget Control Act caps that govern annual appropriations bills or is fully offset by reducing loans for DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program.
This is an intro to economics – by passing this legislation and securing the appropriate funding – we can improve economic opportunity for all Americans.
This is a critical moment; we must get back to regular order, passing a WRDA every two years.
Doing this will help us modernize our water transportation infrastructure and keep flood protection and environmental restoration needs around the Country.
It’s time to do our job, and do what we were sent here to do. Not acting is not an option. The status quo is not working; we must change our approach and act now, before it is too late.