WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, December 6, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee will hold a hearing to examine the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s (IIJA) investments in ecosystem restoration, pollinator-friendly roadside practices, and wildlife crossings.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“We have gathered today to examine several of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s investments in habitat and ecosystem restoration. As we do so, we are privileged to have leaders from two key agencies join us to discuss our shared goal of supporting infrastructure development while also protecting important wildlife habitat.
“With that, let me begin by welcoming Martha Williams, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Brian Fouch, the Associate Administrator for Federal Lands at the Federal Highway Administration. Thank you both for taking the time to join us today.
“Since helping to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law over two years ago, our committee has spent a considerable amount of time analyzing its implementation. That includes the law’s transformational investments in our nation’s roads, highways, and bridges, as well as our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure — investments that our committee authored.
“Today, we will build on that work by discussing some of the law’s lesser-known — but meaningful — investments in ecosystem restoration, wildlife crossings, and pollinator habitat.
“I have long believed that we can grow our economy and support jobs, while also protecting our environment. The programs that we are examining today — and the fact that Congress is investing in them through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — are proof that I am not alone in that belief.
“Specifically, in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we provided the Fish and Wildlife Service with $455 million to facilitate fish passage across our nation and to support four regional restoration initiatives, including the Delaware River Basin Program.
“Today, we look forward to hearing from Director Williams about how the Service is putting these dollars to work quickly and how these investments improve resiliency and leverage private investments.
“In the Delaware River Basin, we have seen firsthand how restoration activities oftentimes make our communities stronger while benefiting our economy. For example, we know that when we make our ecosystems more resilient, clean up our drinking water, and conserve wildlife habitat, it makes Delaware a more attractive place to live, to work, and to play. That is true in all of our states.
“As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we also provided the Federal Highway Administration with $350 million to stand up a pilot program for wildlife crossings. In addition, we authorized $10 million over five years for the agency to support pollinator-friendly roadsides and highway rights-of-way.
“Why did we do that? Well, in addition to habitat fragmentation driving biodiversity loss, wildlife-vehicle collisions present a serious safety issue for drivers. In fact, there are more than one million vehicle collisions involving wildlife each year in our country. The good news is that by working together — the federal government, states, and other conservation partners — we are making progress to address both issues.
“Just yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration announced the first round of grants under the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program. It is worth noting that the demand for this funding outweighed the available dollars by five times, demonstrating the clear demand and need for this important program.
“What’s more, the pilot program is already catalyzing action at the state and local levels. For example, some states are now passing laws and setting aside funding to contribute to this work. And, some states have identified the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program as a possible funding source in their planning documents. In the past two years, twelve states — including California, Utah, Massachusetts, and others — have passed legislation to support wildlife crossings and committed an estimated $240 million to fund habitat connectivity projects.
“Other states have been leading on wildlife crossings for some time and are creatively engaging the public in their efforts. For example, Wyoming sells wildlife conservation license plates that help fund the state’s work to construct crossings. Businesses even provide discounts to customers who purchase these conservation license plates.
“Let me close by saying that the Federal Highway Administration has an incredible opportunity to partner with others as they work to implement the pilot program. That includes working with the Department of the Interior and its agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, which we know have a wealth of expertise in prioritizing habitat connectivity.
“We are interested in learning more today about how the Federal Highway Administration is collaborating with the Service, states, and other stakeholders to make the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program as successful and impactful as possible. We also hope to hear more about how the Federal Highway Administration is balancing the habitat connectivity needs of smaller species with larger species and how the agency is considering aquatic connectivity in this new program.
“With all of that in mind, we look forward to hearing from Associate Administrator Fouch today about his agency’s experience getting the wildlife crossings program off the ground — both the challenges as well as the opportunities going forward.”