WRDA Conference Opening Meeting
November 20, 2013
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I am pleased to open today's conference which I believe will achieve its major goals - improving our nation's water infrastructure, boosting our economy, and creating jobs.
Yesterday, Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member Vitter, Ranking Member Rahall and I met to begin work on this critical conference. We had a productive discussion, and I am very optimistic we can come to an agreement and send this bill to the President's desk.
The last Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) became law in 2007, and it is past time for a new authorization bill. WRDA invests in infrastructure that protects our people from flooding, maintains navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, and restores vital ecosystems, which effectively serve as natural flood control.
Keeping our infrastructure up to date is one of the basic functions we have in Congress. The Senate bill that I introduced with Senator Vitter passed the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee without a single "no" vote, and then was approved by the Senate with very strong bipartisan support (83-14).
Our bill is supported by a wide array of stakeholders from the AFL-CIO to the Chamber of Commerce, from the American Road and Transportation Builders to the Associated Equipment Distributers, and from the Farm Bureau to the Nature Conservancy.
I would like to enter into the record a list of over 160 national and state organizations and local businesses that support this bill.
Chairman Schuster and Ranking Member Rahall also built strong bipartisan support for their bill, which overwhelmingly passed the House (417-3).
Now we must build on this success. I am confident that we can work together to resolve our differences while maintaining strong support in both the House and Senate.
I am proud to say that the Senate developed a fiscally responsible WRDA bill with no earmarks. We figured out a fair way to identify true needs.
As we work to pass a WRDA bill, I think it is important to remember why it matters. Let me give some examples of the critical need for this bill.
WRDA invests in levees and flood control infrastructure across the country. These investments safeguard the public and spur our economy. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, levees helped in the prevention of more than $141 billion in flood damages in 2011 alone.
In my home state of California, Sacramento faces some of the nation's most severe flood risk. Both the House and Senate WRDA bills contain flood protection measures that will allow the Corps of Engineers to strengthen the levees in the Natomas basin in Sacramento, which safeguard tens of thousands of Californians and protect over $7 billion in property.
The bill will allow construction of important port projects that are vital to the flow of commerce and invests in restoring our greatest environmental treasures - like the Florida Everglades.
The Senate bill also establishes important, bipartisan, regional initiatives to address high priority water resource issues that affect approximately 40 states.
In addition to authorizing priority infrastructure projects, the Senate bill has a number of essential reforms and new initiatives, including an extreme weather title. This will enable the Corps of Engineers to help communities better prepare for and reduce the risks of extreme weather-related disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.
Our bill assists localities in need of resources for flood control or wastewater and drinking water infrastructure to receive loans from a new funding mechanism we have named WIFIA, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. This is modeled on the longstanding TIFIA program in the transportation sector.
Our bill also moves forward with faster deadlines for project reviews while protecting every single environmental law.
We also make important reforms to the inland waterways system and move toward a full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. We set priorities that make sense for the larger ports, the smaller ports, the Great Lakes, and the sea ports that are large donors to the fund. These reforms will improve the flow of commerce at our ports and waterways, which moved over 2.3 billion tons of goods in FY 2012.
Is our bill perfect? No. But I am proud that in this very tough legislative atmosphere, we passed a bill that will directly support approximately 500,000 jobs - and sustain the millions of jobs that depend on our national water transportation system. I am very proud of that and so is Senator Vitter.
I know Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member Rahall have done the same in the House. I believe that we can all come together and show the American people that Congress can pass a bill that is good for jobs, good for local communities, and good for the economy.