Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords, I-Vt.
EPW Hearing on Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
Good morning. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding today’s hearing on water resource needs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the eyes of many, taking action on water resource issues is really the first step in the recovery of southern Louisiana. Without adequate flood control, redevelopment will be impossible. Today’s hearing is a follow-up from a stakeholders’ meeting we held several weeks ago, at which more than thirty people came before our committee to provide their views on next steps. Today we are hearing from a smaller group, but our work has already been influenced by that larger gathering. I know some of our witnesses here today were at that previous meeting, and I want them to know that I value their insights. Today we are essentially covering two main questions: Why do we need investment in water resources, and what do we need to do? I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on those points. At the stakeholders meeting, we heard several major themes that I see are echoed in the written testimony for today. We have heard the personal stories of how Katrina impacted the lives of so many people, and we have heard about the special, unique features this area of the country brings to us. For me, this is the “why” of investment in water resources. I will never tire of hearing these stories, and I encourage our witnesses to share your experiences with us. I want us all to remember that it is the people of this region we are talking about at this hearing. We have heard that water resource investment must be comprehensive, and include flood control, ecosystem restoration, and navigation. Piecemeal solutions will not solve the problem. We have heard the message loud and clear that time is of the essence. People in Louisiana are frustrated at the lack of progress in developing a WRDA proposal and enacting that critical reauthorization bill. We need to move quickly, but balance the need for speed with the need for safety. We should not rebuild an entire levee system without incorporating the lessons learned from the failure of that system. I am a little dismayed that there is an $8 million study included in the Energy and Water conference report that covers only flood control. This seems to be a narrow evaluation that will take a long time, rather than a comprehensive study that will be finished quickly. It seems to be the exact opposite of what we’ve been hearing we need. We have also heard that local redevelopment plans must guide federal spending decisions. We may or may not need Category Five flood protection everywhere. The mayor of New Orleans testified before our committee last week that he has a group working on this, as does the Governor. I would like to hear from each of the witnesses on how you think this process is going. Mr. Chairman, I am disappointed that I even need to raise this next point, but I know that there is interest in this. The claims that environmental litigation is somehow responsible for flooding in New Orleans are false, and distract us from what I believe is our real purpose here: to use water resource investments as a positive tool in the rebuilding of the New Orleans area. To give some additional perspective to today’s hearing, I also want to emphasize, as I have at our last several Katrina events, a bit of history about disaster response. Over the last 200 years, our nation has moved from an ad hoc approach to a coordinated, orderly approach, with the help of the Stafford Act. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I believe we witnessed the degradation of our national response system as a result of the bad decision to move FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. Once there, FEMA became lost in an endless bureaucracy and we have seen the tragic consequences. I have joined Senator Clinton in an effort to correct that mistake. Mr. Chairman, since my good friend Senator Bob Stafford of Vermont, for whom the Stafford Act was named, was a member of this Committee, we have traditionally been the “go to” committee for emergency response. We have an opportunity here with the Corps of Engineers to continue in that tradition, and take meaningful action to change the way we do business and help Louisiana recover. I stand ready to help make that happen.