WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, February 28, 2024, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to assist with the development of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2024, which authorizes projects, programs, and other activities under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“For a decade, this committee has led the effort to pass biennial Water Resources Development Acts, also known as WRDA, with overwhelming bipartisan support. Last Congress, the Senate passed WRDA 2022 by a vote of 93-1. We don’t see margins like that every day in the U.S. Senate!

“Having said that though, that’s a pattern we want to continue to replicate … timely, bipartisan reauthorizations, resulting in sound policies to address our nation’s critical water resource needs in the face of increasingly powerful storms, devastating floods and more intense and frequent droughts. I am proud of the work done by all of our EPW colleagues and our staffs in making this goal a reality.

“I am especially grateful to Ranking Member Capito for the partnership we have forged with her and her team on all things WRDA.  When it comes to this committee, WRDA is a shining example of the bipartisanship that is too often overlooked. 

“This past fall, Senator Capito and I received more than 1,200 requests from our colleagues in the Senate for consideration in WRDA 2024. I believe that may set a new record! Since then, we have been diligently reviewing these priorities with the Corps, and we have identified some consistent themes.

“First, communities are asking for Corps projects to be more affordable. Second, non-federal sponsors are seeking more flexibility when working with the Corps. And third, communities are asking for Corps projects to do more to address extreme weather and climate change.

“To many of us, these are all too familiar topics. That’s because in the past several reauthorizations, we have made historic changes to Corps policy to address these very issues. We have made cost shares more favorable for underserved and Tribal communities. We have given the Corps authority to review their contracting procedures. And, we have directed the Corps to consider the impacts of climate change in all that they do.

“So one might ask, why are we still seeing these WRDA requests in 2024, if we’ve already addressed these problems? Well, while the last three WRDA bills have been transformative, implementation of these laws is taking longer than expected. A good deal longer. We need to understand how we can help the Corps implement these laws more expeditiously. As many on this committee have heard me say, ‘Everything I do, I know I can do better.’ That same principle applies here, as well.  

“To be fair, the Corps has begun to make some meaningful progress, though. Two weeks ago, I was pleased to learn that the Corps announced a regulatory proposal to revise its Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines. Historically, the Corps has relied too much on an oversimplified cost to benefit ratio in its decision-making process, which has sometimes undercut crucial community and ecosystem needs. This new regulatory proposal makes major strides to elevate the best-available science throughout the Corps’ decision-making processes and goes a long way towards building community resilience to climate change. I hope to see that rulemaking process move forward as swiftly as possible.

“I do recognize that implementation of Congress’ recent WRDA bills — including the rulemaking for the Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines — takes time, but the clock is ticking. We are already feeling the acute impacts of climate change across the country — from drought in the West, to sea level rise on the Gulf Coast, to floods from snowpack melt in the Midwest.

“Without intervention, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the threat of sea level rise is going to accelerate in the next 30 years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 40% of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of a coastline. That means more than 130 million people who live in coastal counties, including all of Delaware, much of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and many states to the North of us, are going to be directly impacted by rising sea levels.  So, we need to continue working with partners like the Corps in addressing the impacts of climate change. 

“While the slow progress we’ve seen from the Corps on this front is better than no progress, it’s my hope that today’s discussion will be an opportunity for us to learn more about what has caused the delays in WRDA implementation, and how we can make sure that these historic bills have the transformative impact that Congress intends.

“Senator Capito and I are in agreement that WRDA 2024 will focus on individual project solutions, giving the Corps the ability to dedicate more time and resources to fully implement the changes we have already made in past bills.

“General Spellmon and Assistant Secretary Connor, we look forward to hearing your testimony and insights today. Thank you for joining us. Thanks as well to the men and women you lead.”