WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 3, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 and implementation of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Today, we are here to examine the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budget request for fiscal year 2024, as well as the implementation of the recently passed Water Resources Development Act, affectionately known as WRDA 2022.
“This year, the President has proposed a budget of $7.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers. While larger than any other budget request for the Corps to date, the President’s proposal is still less than the $8.7 billion Congress provided in annual spending last year.
“To help us unpack this request and understand the Corps’ implementation of WRDA 2022, we are pleased to welcome our witnesses: Assistant Secretary Connor and General Spellmon. Thank you for joining us and for your ongoing service to our nation.
“The Corps’ work is fundamental to keeping our economy moving forward. As you may recall, the Corps manages our nation’s ports and waterways, restores our ecosystems, which are critical to fisheries, tourism, and recreation, and advances flood management solutions to protect communities. In fact, 99 percent of our overseas trade goes through channels that the Corps helps maintain.
“As the largest manager of our nation’s water infrastructure, the Corps also plays a critical role in job creation and retention. In addition to employing nearly 37,000 civilian and military personnel, the agency’s work spurs economic growth across our nation to the tune of more than $50 billion dollars annually. With that in mind, I am sure a number of our members will have specific projects in their states that they would like to ask about today.
“The Corps has certainly been a vital partner in many parts of our economy in Delaware. In addition to delivering nearly $300 million in essential project funding for Delaware this year alone, the Corps recently approved permits to allow for an expansion of the Port of Wilmington. I’m pleased to share that Delaware is now set to build a new terminal at the Port and bring hundreds of new jobs to our region.
“The Corps’ work is possible because of the policies and studies, along with the projects and programs that our committee authorizes through WRDA.
“For a decade, this committee has led the effort to pass biennial WRDA legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. Last year, for example, the Senate passed the final WRDA 2022 legislation by a vote of 83-11. That’s a pattern we hope, and expect, to continue: timely bipartisan reauthorizations, resulting in sound policies to address our nation’s water resource needs.
“Today, I am particularly interested in hearing about how the Corps’ fiscal year 2024 budget request would help advance its mission and support the implementation of WRDA 2022. We also want to hear about any ongoing challenges that the agency faces so that our committee can continue to be a problem solver as we consider the next WRDA reauthorization.
“The Corps has an important and challenging mission. We recognize that even with historic funding, project demands still often outpace our investments. In the past, that has led to the Corps having to make some tough choices, particularly in many smaller, more economically disadvantaged communities—including those in rural and tribal areas. Historically, these disadvantaged communities have been the last to have their needs met.
“That is why we included provisions in the 2018, as well as the 2020 and 2022 WRDA reauthorizations directing the Corps to increase its work with financially disadvantaged and underserved communities. I am encouraged that the Corps’ recently issued guidance begins to better serve these communities. In addition, I am eager to hear more about the Corps’ progress.
“In WRDA 2022, Congress instructed the Corps to take a more holistic approach when accounting for the impacts of climate change in its work. With that in mind, today is also an opportunity for our committee to hear about how the Corps is using—and plans to use—these authorities.
“We are acutely aware of the need to develop solutions that not only work today but will protect us in the future. But, we are not alone in facing the challenges posed by climate change. The federal government needs to plan for the climate realities we face and will continue to face as a nation. These realities range from droughts in the West, to sea level rise in the Gulf Coast, to floods from snowpack melt in the Midwest and beyond.
“As a key partner for states and communities in addressing the impacts of climate change, the Corps must plan for these realities. And, we know that failing to do so comes at a steep cost. In 2022, there were eighteen climate disasters in the United States with damages of over $1 billion each.
“Throughout the past 30 years, much of the Corps’ funding has been provided in response to disasters, not in preparation for them. Not only do we need to proactively address the root causes of climate change—we need to also proactively make our infrastructure more resilient to these climate-fueled extreme weather.
“In closing, my hope is that today’s hearing will provide us with a better sense of the Corps’ priorities and the direction it plans to take. General Spellmon, Assistant Secretary Connor—we look forward to hearing your testimony and insights. That will better inform our oversight, and of course, the 2024 WRDA bill.”