WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, June 7, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee will hold a hearing to examine the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ecosystem restoration projects.

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

“Today, we are here to conduct oversight of one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ primary mission areas: ecosystem restoration. The Army Corps of Engineers’ work to support commerce through navigation and flood control is the backbone of our economy. Still, addressing the toll that this commerce takes on our environment is—and will continue to be—a top priority for the Corps.

“From large, multi-decade initiatives to small, focused projects, the Corps’ ecosystem restoration work is critical. This is especially true as climate change continues to threaten communities, wildlife, and our economy—all of which depend on healthy ecosystems.  

“As many of us know, the biennial Water Resources Development Act, known as WRDA, establishes the authorities for the Corps’ future work. In the 1986 WRDA, Congress first directed the Corps to lead ecosystem restoration efforts for the Upper Mississippi River, laying the foundation for an expanded environmental restoration role for the agency.

“In every WRDA since then, Congress has expanded the Corps’ ability to address critical ecosystem restoration. From the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast—and from the Chesapeake Bay to the San Francisco Bay Delta—communities across our country have benefited from this important work.

“Most recently, we expanded the Corps’ definition of ecosystem restoration in WRDA 2022 to include factors such as climate change and coastal and riverine restoration. 

“Last month, Assistant Secretary Connor testified that the Corps’ budget request for fiscal year 2024 included more than $650 million for aquatic ecosystem restoration—the most ever in a budget request. This growing amount, paired with the more than $1.9 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, highlights Congress’ ongoing commitment to the Corps’ work.

“These funds, however, are only the tip of the spear when it comes to the long-term needs of the Army Corps. Today’s hearing will help us better understand the current size and scope of ecosystem restoration needs and what more this committee can do to address community environmental restoration efforts.

“The Corps’ ecosystem restoration portfolio includes roughly 140 ongoing ecosystem restoration construction projects and studies. These initiatives focus on restoring the landscape and hydrology to more natural conditions and connecting restoration and navigation projects—a win-win for our environment and for our economy.

“For example, let’s take Poplar Island in Maryland. Poplar Island was originally more than 1,000 acres in size and home to a small community of residents. From 1846 until recently, the island had slowly eroded until only about four acres remained. Thanks to the Corps’ work—pairing dredged material from Baltimore Harbor and channel maintenance projects with environmental restoration—Poplar Island has been restored to more than 1,700 acres. The project exemplifies how the Corps’ ecosystem restoration mandate supports the economic activity we depend on from our ports and harbors while creating wetlands and wildlife habitats. And, according to Senator Cardin, it’s a beautiful place to visit.

“Today, we will hear more from our witnesses about the Corps’ role in specific ecosystem restoration efforts. That includes the Everglades in Florida, Tres Rios in Arizona, and the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary in South Carolina. Before we do, let me offer a few thoughts on each of these efforts.

“First, there is the Corps-led Everglades restoration, which includes Lake Okeechobee—the second largest freshwater body in the contiguous United States. The effort is the largest ecosystem restoration effort in the Corp’s federal portfolio. According to the Corps, these federal investments in Florida are generating annual cost savings of over $300 million by preventing flood damage to property, while fortifying water supply infrastructure and protecting fish and wildlife.

“Next, there is Tres Rios in Phoenix, Arizona—an aquatic ecosystem found in the desert that unifies flood control, ecosystem restoration, and recreation. This project includes an engineered levee as well as the restoration of over 1,200 acres of wetlands, hiking trails, nature trails, and more. These wetlands are critical for a state that is going through an historic drought. 

“And, last but certainly not least, there is the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary in South Carolina. This project is considered a ‘landmark legacy’ of the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening project. The deepening work from below the water resulted in the dredged material for 32 acres of prime nesting ground above the water for over 15 species of shore and seabirds—another win-win.

“Let me close by thanking members of my staff and Senator Capito’s staff for their great work on WRDA 2022. I also want to thank our bipartisan panel of witnesses joining us today. We look forward to hearing from each of you on your experiences with the Corps and what more Congress could be doing to support these critical efforts. Our hearing today will help inform our oversight efforts and future legislative action on ecosystem restoration, specifically as we gear up for WRDA 2024, which is just around the corner.”