WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “Examining the Effects of Extreme Heat and Weather on Transportation.”
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for calling today’s hearing and for your ongoing commitment to bipartisanship in the Committee’s business.
“I also want to give a warm welcome to our Committee witnesses, and I understand one of my fellow native West Virginians, Mr. Parsons, who is from Fort Ashby, West Virginia. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with us today.
“If we look back at the first eight months of 2023 our country has confronted several types of disasters.
“We’ve seen catastrophic floods in California and Vermont, tornadoes in Arkansas and Mississippi, violent hailstorms in Texas, a hurricane made landfall in Florida, flash floods in my home state of West Virginia, and those horrible, massive fires in Hawaii.
“The consequences of extreme weather are felt in both urban and rural communities year-round.
“With the many challenges that our states face in improving their transportation infrastructure, I am very proud of this committee’s bipartisan work to provide them with the funding they need to address these challenges in the IIJA.
“And, as with varied extreme weather events show, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing infrastructure and resiliency.
“As my colleagues have heard me say many times, maintaining flexibility within the Federal-aid Highway Program is absolutely crucial to ensuring that states can tackle their unique transportation needs head on.
“I am pleased that the programs and policies we established in the IIJA adhered to this principle.
“So, as we continue with the oversight of the implementation of the IIJA, I will work to ensure that states retain that flexibility provided to them within the law.
“One of the IIJA’s new programs that is especially relevant to today’s hearing is the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation, or the PROTECT, program.
“As the acronym suggests, this program provides a renewed focus on improving the resiliency of our transportation infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.
“Specifically, it gives formula funding to all states and directs the Secretary of Transportation to also award competitive grants to eligible entities.
“The funding can be used to carry out planning activities, build evacuation routes, and reinforce existing highways and bridges, among other eligible uses.
“The program is important because it is a new tool we have to ensure we are preparing for the future, and not just responding to the aftermath of extreme weather.
“To do otherwise would be a failure in our stewardship of federal taxpayer dollars, and could delay timely disaster response and recovery efforts.
“I noted earlier that the PROTECT program places a renewed focus on resiliency.
“That is because resiliency is not a new consideration for states and other non-federal partners as they design and construct highways and bridges to best serve their citizens.
“Infrastructure owners were already incorporating resiliency into asset management strategies, planning documents, and project development.
“I’m glad to see that the work that we did in the IIJA is furthering these efforts.
“As we were developing the IIJA, one of my other policy priorities was improving the environmental review and permitting process.
“I am pleased that we were successful in this area.
“The IIJA included a robust set of provisions to make this process more efficient, without sacrificing environmental protections, and included codifying of the One Federal Decision policy for surface transportation projects.
“Our ability to prepare for, respond, and recover from extreme weather is directly related to whether states can get their projects through the morass of the federal environmental review process, and secure the necessary permitting approvals.
“Faced with challenges like extreme weather, we cannot afford to have a process that adds years to project timelines, and drives up costs, especially given the current inflationary environment.
“This issue continues to be an area of focus for me.
“I was pleased to see that further improvements to the project delivery process were included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“However, I am troubled that the administration is not faithfully implementing that law, and instead seems intent on adding more hurdles to infrastructure permitting.
“Recently, the CEQ proposed phase two of its NEPA implementing regulations, which they advertise as implementing the FRA provisions.
“But additional changes in that proposal, which have no textual basis in the FRA, seek to transform environmental reviews from information-gathering processes into tools that slow projects that the administration does not support, and many times they don’t support because of political reasons.
“The administration is proposing to layer on political bias and favor certain types of projects at the expense of others.
“I hope that the administration corrects course on these issues based on stakeholder feedback, and adheres to the FRA’s plain text.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the on-the-ground efforts to address the effects of extreme weather on our transportation infrastructure.
“I thank the Chairman again, and I yield back."
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