Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Role of Natural and Nature-Based Features in Water Resources Projects.”

Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to welcome to our witnesses.

“The timing and focus of this hearing are appropriate as it has been over a year since we advanced the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) out of this committee.

“In the WRDA legislation, Congress authorizes water resources projects and sets national policies for the Civil Works Program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“From navigation to flood risk management, these projects are critical to the economic opportunity and safety of millions of Americans.

“I look forward to building on the bipartisan consensus that we have already achieved on infrastructure policy in this committee by staying on the biannual schedule of moving WRDA legislation to enactment.

“The role of natural and nature-based features—or natural infrastructure—in water resources projects has been discussed by this committee for years, and incorporated into previous legislation.

“Most significantly, in 2016, with the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.

“In that legislation, Congress defined natural and nature-based features and included them among other measures to be considered in the Corps’ feasibility study process for flood risk management, storm damage reduction, and ecosystem restoration projects.

“This was in recognition of the role natural infrastructure can play in achieving the Corps’ mission areas while producing other benefits. 

“For example, a wetland in coastal Louisiana may help protect communities from hurricane damage, as well as provide ecological habitat.

“A levee setback on the Missouri River can reconnect the floodplain to the river, while lessening flood risk to the surrounding community.

“In the 2016 bill, Congress also reiterated the essential partnership between the Corps and non-federal sponsors in undertaking such projects, requiring that natural and nature-based features be considered with the consent of the non-federal sponsor.

“This is the crux of what we are discussing here today.

“Natural infrastructure is an important tool in our toolbox that ought to be available for consideration and application in water resources projects where practicable, cost-effective, and with the buy-in of those communities partnering with the Corps.

“It is not a panacea on its own, however, as we all know.

“Natural infrastructure often works in concert with traditional infrastructure.

“In some cases, structural solutions alone may be the only viable solution to a water resources infrastructure issue.

“Take my home state of West Virginia.

“While we have a history of terrible floods, our topography is not naturally conducive to implementation of many of the frequently cited examples of natural infrastructure.

“That is why the work being done by the Corps, the non-federal sponsors, and other stakeholders to advance our understanding of natural infrastructure through research and real-world experience is so very important.

“The ‘Engineering with Nature Initiative’ the Corps is leading is one example.

“The initiative’s work is informed by research being performed at the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center and in collaboration with partners across the globe in both the public and private sectors.

“The collection, summation, and dissemination of natural infrastructure best practices on an international scale will inform our decisions as policymakers and provide communities with the knowledge necessary to decide what works best for them.

“Private industry is also lending its expertise.

“In April 2019, the chairman and I hosted a briefing featuring both Dr. Bridges and representatives from the Natural Infrastructure Initiative, a partnership between various public and private stakeholders, regarding the work that is already underway.

“It is important that as policymakers we continue to broaden our understanding through these and other efforts.

“We need to better understand the benefits and costs of incorporating natural and nature-based features in Corps projects, both in the short-term and over the life of a project.

“This includes the effect of these approaches on operations and maintenance.

“We also need to better understand where it makes sense to incorporate these features. 

“It may not make sense in every project.

“Furthering our conceptual and practical knowledge of natural infrastructure will help us make smart investments in water resources projects that yield multiple benefits.

“The missions of the Corps are as important today as at any time in our nation’s history.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we many continue to support these missions using every tool available. 

“Thank you for being with us today."

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