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OPENING STATEMENT BY SENATOR INHOFE
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Hearing on Water Resources Needs and the President’s Budget Proposal
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Thank you Senator Baucus for holding this hearing. I’d first like to offer a special welcome to the current Chief of Engineers Lieutenant General Carl Strock, as this is likely the last time he will appear before our Committee. General Strock will be retiring as soon as his successor is confirmed, which should be soon.
In July 2004, when he assumed command of the Corps, General Strock faced many challenges with respect to balancing the varied objectives of our nation’s water resources policies, as well as overseeing the Corps’ substantial involvement in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenges only got more numerous and complex in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
While the Chief of Engineers will always have its detractors, I believe General Strock has performed his duties admirably and should be commended for his strong leadership during particularly difficult circumstances. Thank you, General Strock, for your dedication and service to the nation. I wish you well in whatever endeavors you decide to pursue next.
Today’s hearing is to look at the President’s fiscal year 2008 budget request for the Corps of Engineers as well as the nation’s water resources needs more generally. Let me first say that everyone knows how long overdue the Water Resources Development Act is and how important the many project authorizations and policy improvements in the bill are to the country’s economy, public safety and environment.
We made great progress last year, but, unfortunately, just weren’t able to finalize the last few items during conference. I intend to continue working closely with Senators Boxer, Baucus and Isakson to build on the progress made last year in order to enact WRDA as soon as possible this year. I also am committed to getting us back to a biennial cycle by pushing for a WRDA 08 bill.
As far as the President’s budget request for FY08, although I was pleased to see an increase over the request from FY07, this year’s request is still significantly less than was enacted for FY07. As a fiscal conservative, I support the overall goal of reigning in government spending, but I firmly believe that the two things government should spend money on are defense and infrastructure.
Unfortunately, we do not focus enough time, attention or dollars on this important issue on a consistent basis, and therefore, the state of our infrastructure is deplorable. For example, in its “2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that fully half of all Corps-operated locks on our inland waterways were functionally obsolete and that that number would increase to 80 percent by 2020.
In addition to adequately maintaining and updating the infrastructure we have, we need to make investments in new capability as well. The McKlellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System in Oklahoma and Arkansas could function much more efficiently and productively if we proceed with deepening it to 12 feet from its current 9 foot depth.
Another area needing attention is recreation. I bet many people aren’t aware of this, but the Corps of Engineers is actually the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation – larger than both the Park Service and the Forest Service. We have a lot of Corps lakes and reservoirs in Oklahoma, but we’re not getting the funding for either operations and maintenance of existing facilities or for developing new facilities.
The budget request again proposes a Corps recreation modernization initiative that would enable the Corps to use the collected user fees for maintaining and upgrading its facilities. We had language with the same intent in last year’s WRDA bill, but we ran into scoring problems and had to remove it. I want to continue discussing this idea and hopefully, we can come up with a plan acceptable to everyone.
The other option we have is to further explore public-private partnerships as a means of providing better and more abundant recreation opportunities to our citizens. Last year’s WRDA bill included a provision allowing the Corps to experiment with certain policies to see what options are available at Oklahoma’s many lakes to maximize the recreation benefits of public-private partnerships.
Let me conclude by commending the Corps of Engineers for its work with other federal and state agencies at the Tar Creek Superfund Site. I appreciate your visits to the area. As you are aware, we have encountered problems such as reprogramming of funds and authorization of funding to assist residents. However, I appreciate you and your staff working with my office to remedy those issues. I want to get your continued commitment to make the work at Tar Creek a top priority and to devote resources to continue the necessary work we are accomplishing.