WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke on the Senate floor today about America’s Water Infrastructure Act, a bipartisan bill he co-authored that will update, enhance and protect critical water infrastructure systems and drinking water systems in Delaware and throughout the United States. After a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives in September, the Senate voted to close debate on the bill today on a 96-3 vote. A final passage vote is scheduled for tomorrow.
“In a Congress – and a country -- that are all too often divided, it is truly refreshing that we have been able to come together to authorize water infrastructure and drinking water programs that are both vital and critical to the American people’s way of life. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 is a win-win both for our nation’s economy and our environment…Our bill supports the ongoing work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It does so by reauthorizing the Corps’ programs for flood control, for beach and shoreline maintenance, and for the maintenance of inland and coastal waterways through which the goods that enter or depart from American ports travel.
Senator Carper continued: “In addition to strengthening key Corps programs, this bill also addresses key programs at the EPA that address major drinking water and wastewater needs across the country… This proposal stands as a timely example of how we can put aside our differences and get meaningful work done for the people who sent us here accomplish on their behalf.”
Today’s speech can be viewed by clicking here. Below are Senator Carper’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. President, I rise today to discuss an important piece of infrastructure legislation that will positively affect the states of every member of the Senate, and I want to encourage each of our colleagues to support it. Over the course of August and early September, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reached an agreement with our counterparts in the House to advance America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.
“Our Chairman, John Barrasso and I co-authored this bill and did so with the invaluable help of both the majority and minority staffs of the EPW committee over the better part of this year. I would like to thank our chairman, as well as the Senator from Oklahoma (Senator Inhofe) and the Senator from Maryland (Senator Cardin), for their leadership in producing this critical bipartisan legislation. I also want to thank the members of their staffs and, especially the minority EPW staff members without whom this bipartisan bill would not be before us today. Collectively, you’ve done terrific work, and I’m proud of you all! As we say in the Navy, ‘Bravo Zulu!’ Well done.
“As some of you may recall, the Senate’s version of the bill was reported out of the Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously a few months back and, on September 13th the bill passed the House unanimously on a voice vote. I am hopeful, and encouraged, that this bill will receive the same kind of support in the Senate this week.
“In a Congress – and a country -- that are all too often divided, it is truly refreshing that we have been able to come together to authorize water infrastructure and drinking water programs that are both vital and critical to the American people’s way of life. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 is a win-win both for our nation’s economy and for our environment. This bill should serve as a model for how we can get meaningful legislation done in Congress, and I hope that it will.
“This legislation supports the ongoing work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It does so by reauthorizing the Corps’ programs for flood control, for beach and shoreline maintenance, and for the maintenance of inland and coastal waterways through which the goods that enter or depart from American ports travel. The Corps’ civil works program is our nation’s largest – and one of the world’s biggest – water resources undertakings. This program addresses a wide variety of priorities, including ship navigability, flood risk management, beach and shoreline protection, renewable energy like hydropower, water supply, and environmental restoration and stewardship. In fact, over 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade moves through waterways that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for maintaining. Think of that -- 99 percent! In fact, this bill supports the Corps’ operation and maintenance of 13,000 miles of commercial deep draft ship channels and 12,000 miles of commercial inland waterways. These ports and waterways serve a combined 40 states, and they transport much of our country’s waterborne cargo.
“The new authorizations that this bill provides are critically needed. Much of the infrastructure that the Army Corps is responsible for across our country now exceeds its useful life span. As a result, we have an enormous construction backlog of needed infrastructure investments. The latest estimates from the Corps indicate the overall construction backlog is in the neighborhood of $96 billion, while its annual budget hovers around $4.6 billion. Those two numbers reflect the extraordinary challenge that the Army Corps faces, a challenge that we begin to address with this legislation. This bill starts to address that backlog by providing new tools that will allow local governments to partner with the Corps and leverage existing resources to make sure that we get the most ‘bang for our buck.’
“This legislation also increases local participation, transparency and accountability in developing the Corps’ annual budget. It is my hope that enhanced local participation will allow for a more transparent and long-term look at the Corps’ activities and help build a greater ground swell of support for increased appropriations to fund the agency’s initiatives.
The measure before us also authorizes critical Corps of Engineers disaster programs. When disaster strikes, the federal government often steps in and helps — as it did last year in Puerto Rico, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas and, this year, in the Carolinas. And, a large part of that help is provided by the Army Corps of Engineers, something that may come as a surprise to many Americans who don’t realize the critical role that the Corps serves in responding to all sorts of emergencies.
“In addition, this bill includes new authorities to help bolster communities and ecosystems in coastal states like Delaware and Maryland, and in states across our country, from the some of the worst impacts of extreme weather events. This measure includes provisions that allow communities to recover more quickly, too, when disaster does strike and facilitates rebuilding in ways that are more resilient to future storms. This legislation also makes key changes in emergency response, post-disaster recovery, and resiliency efforts so that the Corps thinks long term, instead of short term, when it selects the solutions it implements. But, this bill goes even further. It enables the Corps to pursue the best possible solutions to make communities more resistant to storm damage, whether those solutions are a traditionally constructed levee or natural alternative, like the reconstructed dunes that we are using along the Delaware coasts.
“Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the total costs for extreme weather and climate events in 2017 exceeded $300 billion—that’s a new U.S. annual record. It is not a matter of ‘if’ the next extreme weather event is coming—it is a matter of ‘when.’ As storm events ? such as Hurricane Florence ? grow more powerful and prevalent, threatening American lives and infrastructure, the passage of this bill – a bill that will help protect coastal communities from the risks of flooding – has never been more important.
“In addition to strengthening key Corps programs, this bill also addresses key programs at EPA for major drinking water and wastewater needs across our country. For the first time in over 20 years, this bill reauthorizes the Drinking Water State Revolving loan fund, too. That program provides federal assistance to help communities with clean drinking water. It does so through the form of no interest, low interest and forgivable loans that helps communities in a variety of ways get access to capital that would otherwise be unavailable. It is my hope that one day we could eventually add grants back into this program for communities that need the help the most, but that’s a longer conversation.
“The ongoing crisis in Flint that we are now seeing play out in far too many communities across our country is tragic, but avoidable, if we invest in water infrastructure more wisely. This bill makes it clear that we’ve learned our lesson, and we are beginning to take steps to address this enormous challenge. Some of you may recall that earlier this Congress, Senator Duckworth and I hosted a drinking water round table here on Capitol Hill. The image of her holding up a baby bottle with formula made from contaminated drinking water is one that’s hard to forget. This bill authorizes more resources for EPA to make sure every parent – no matter what zip code they live in – can be confident that the water coming out of their tap at home, or at their children’s school, is safe for them to drink.
“Toward that end, this legislation not only reauthorizes the safe drinking water revolving loan program, it nearly doubles its funding. By Fiscal Year 2021, the program will grow from its current authorization of $1 billion to nearly $2 billion. Perhaps most notably, especially in light of the avoidable devastation and tragedy we saw in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey, this bill authorizes $100 million to repair drinking water systems damaged by storms and creates a new program that helps protect drinking water systems from extreme weather events.
“This legislation also allows states that detect contaminants in drinking water to provide assistance to residents who depend on private water wells. This provision should matter to every member of Congress whose residents rely significantly on wells for their water consumption needs. I don’t know about other states, but one in six Delawareans depends on private wells for their drinking water. It’s just not fair that if contaminants end up in their water, through no fault of their own, the resident has to find a way to rectify that situation. On their own. Without this bill, these taxpayers get no support, and that’s just not right. And, this bill goes well beyond just addressing emergency situations.
“It provides a framework for updating and expanding water infrastructure systems throughout the country at both the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. As I mentioned earlier, the bill authorizes $50 million for technical assistance to help schools and day care centers deal with lead contamination in their drinking water, and another $5 million per year in grants for monitoring, testing and replacing the lead components that are causing water contamination. This provision is going to be particularly helpful in places like Chicago and Baltimore, where there are schools operating with no usable drinking fountains.
“Oftentimes, our water infrastructure is the forgotten leg on the infrastructure stool. We rightly worry about the infrastructure we can see, like bridges, highways and airports, but our water infrastructure – our pipes, our shipping channels, our flood control structures- the infrastructure we don’t see, but rely on every day, is also in desperate need of investment in many parts of America.
“Before I yield the floor today, let me again thank the Senator from Wyoming (Chairman Barrasso) and Senators from Maryland (Senator Cardin) and Oklahoma (Senator Inhofe), as well as their staffs, for their hard work throughout this process. I also want to thank our House colleagues: Congressmen Shuster, DeFazio, Walden and Pallone who were great partners. When we work together as Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, we’re stronger, and when we’re stronger, so is America. And, finally, I want to thank Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James who made this legislation a real priority. He and his team worked with us to craft a bill that I think we can all be proud of.
“Let me end today with an African proverb that I think is particularly relevant here: ‘If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.’ By working together, we’ve crafted legislation that’s both substantive and needed. This proposal stands as a timely example of how we can put aside our differences and get meaningful work done for the people who sent us here to accomplish on their behalf.
“Mr. President, the underlying bill before us is one that delivers a lot of good for the American people, and ? at the same time ? represents good public policy that is fiscally responsible. It is deserving of the support of the Senate, and I hope that our colleagues will join us in supporting its passage.”