WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held an oversight hearing to examine the response by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Hurricane Ida.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, everyone. I am pleased to call this hearing to order.
“To our witnesses joining us from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—Major General Butch Graham, Brigadier General Tom Tickner and Colonel Steve Murphy—welcome and thank you for joining us here today to discuss what, sadly, has become an all too frequent issue over the past few years: providing emergency response in the aftermath of extreme weather.
“Each of our witnesses comes from a different position within the Corps. They will be able to share with us their points of view on the Corps’ response to Hurricane Ida, as well as their thoughts on investing in more resilient water resources infrastructure—or building back better, as our president likes to say.
“As we all know, since 1980, North Atlantic hurricanes have become more intense and more frequent. This trend is projected to continue in the years ahead as our planet continues to warm. Accordingly, the importance of the Corps’ emergency response services will grow, as well.
“That’s why we must ensure that all parts of our government—local, federal, and state—are working together in lockstep to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure so it can withstand these extreme storms.
“In New Orleans, the $14.5 billion flood-protection system built after Hurricane Katrina is a great example of a smart, all-of-government approach to resilience—one where the federal government funded the total cost of the project and the state of Louisiana has now begun to pay back its share.
“When Hurricane Ida made landfall exactly 16 years after Katrina, this new system was put to its first test. Fortunately, it held strong and prevented the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans that we saw in 2005. This is where we can see that federal investment in resiliency pays real dividends.
“But challenges still remain. One of our biggest obstacles with projects like this one in Louisiana—as well as the Indian River Inlet in Delaware—is that states and localities often rely on reimbursements from the Corps to cover the costs of operating and maintaining these projects after they are constructed. But the Corps—constrained by politics and budget shortfalls—can’t always cover all of these costs, leaving states and communities to foot the bill.
“The result is that areas strapped for resources are unable to make the investments in resilience that they desperately need.
“And we know that the need is real. The stakes could not be higher—our economy, our homes, and people’s very lives are at stake.
“Just look at how Louisiana fared during Ida. While sophisticated water infrastructure in New Orleans protected much of the city from flooding, other communities in the state were devastated.
“In my home state of Delaware, which found itself in the path of Ida’s remnants as the storm turned north, we experienced severe beach erosion, flooding, and wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour.
“New Jersey faced similar shoreline erosion, and many of us saw the videos of water rushing through and flooding New York City’s subway system. While the final number of deaths attributed to Hurricane Ida is not yet in, so far we know of 29 confirmed deaths in Louisiana and more than 40 in New York and New Jersey, with deaths reported in at least seven additional states.
“In addition to its tragic human toll, experts project Ida’s economic impact at over $90 billion, making it the seventh costliest hurricane to hit the United States since 2000. Think about that, seven hurricanes, each responsible for more than $90 billion in economic impact, all within 20 years.
“Like all major storms, Ida is teaching us a lot, including about what works and what does not. And while we can all be thankful for the feat of human engineering that protected New Orleans—one of our nation’s most vital port cities—from Ida’s destruction, we must also recognize that, until we address the root causes of climate change, the U. S. will continue to face natural disasters of increasing severity and intensity with even more devastating impacts. That’s why we need to rapidly and dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, while we increase investments in resilience.
“Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ His words still ring true today.
“The Corps of Engineers Civil Works program provides tremendous value to the nation as the primary provider of water resources infrastructure. And with more extreme weather events caused by a changing climate, it has never been more important that our infrastructure stands up to this growing challenge and protects the American people.”