June 25, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on “Protecting and Restoring America’s Iconic Waters”

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled: “Protecting and Restoring America’s Iconic Waters.”

Chair DeFazio:

Estuaries are critical water bodies for the ecological and economic health of our communities, and there is a national interest in their protection and enhancement. These waters are economic centers in coastal states, delivering more than 80 percent to U.S. employment and contributing $116 billion annually to the economy. More than two million people are employed by ocean and estuary-based tourism and recreation. Almost 80 percent of the commercial and recreational fish caught depend on estuaries for part of their lives. These are just a few of the reasons why we need to protect and restore these waters.

As we know, healthy coastal areas are also important to ameliorate the impacts of extreme weather events and ensure the resiliency of our communities. By restoring and protecting our coasts, we can lessen the impacts of hurricanes and other storm events that cause physical and economic damage to our communities.

Today, we will be hearing from stakeholders from different parts of the country about the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPAs) Geographic Programs and the National Estuary Program (NEP). I look forward to learning about the successes of and challenges to these programs and hearing recommendations on how to ensure continued restoration and protection of these important watersheds.

We have seen results when we invest in our national, natural treasures. The Geographic Programs have made great strides in improving the health of places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and in 2016, we were successful in adding the Columbia River Basin to the list of Geographic Programs.  Similarly, EPA’s National Estuary Program has made strides towards improving our nation’s estuaries.

NEPs support local stakeholders as partners to develop solutions and fund local priorities. NEPs engage industries, businesses, and other community members to develop solutions that everyone can support. The strength of the National Estuary Program is the 28 unique, voluntary programs established under the Clean Water Act to protect and restore estuaries of national significance.

Each NEP marshals its local community in a non-regulatory, collaborative, and science-based strategy that strengthens the overall success of our national response. For each dollar the Federal government provides, NEPs leverage their response with $19 in local funds. These funds are used to protect and improve coastal environments, communities, and assets of national significance, and economies.

Investing in these programs is an investment in America’s future. Protecting our estuaries, regional watersheds, and coastal areas is necessary to protecting our economy, fish and wildlife, and the homes and jobs of millions of people.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration does not seem to understand the importance of these programs and continues to propose cutting severely or altogether eliminating programs focused on protecting our nation’s important waters – unless, of course, there is a political advantage for supporting these programs. For example, the Trump administration recently decided to support $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes after initially proposing only $30 million in the President’s budget.

This is short-sighted given the economic importance of estuaries and coastal areas, investing in their health will result in more economic benefits.

We need to set a better example than the current administration and use our Congressional authority to continue these programs and to fund the restoration of geographically-important regions and estuaries.

Chair DeFazio remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Napolitano:

Today, we will discuss the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPAs) Geographic Programs and the National Estuary Program (NEP).

EPA’s Geographic Programs help to identify and assist specific areas across a region, often across multiple states. Funding for these programs has been key to protecting and restoring some of the most cherished waterways in the nation. The National Estuary Program (NEP) focuses on restoring and protecting 28 estuaries of national significance across the country.

Estuaries and coastal areas are major economic drivers, accounting for some 28 million jobs. These areas are locations for ports and harbors. They need protection since impaired estuaries can impact fishing and tourism revenues, and cause costly damage from flooding, shoreline erosion, and damaged infrastructure.

The Trump administration has proposed drastically cutting funding for the Geographic Programs and the NEP. Fortunately, Congress has restored funding for these important efforts. However, we need to renew our commitment to these programs and the protection of our nation’s waters.

Despite efforts by the States and, in some places, voluntary efforts, progress has been slow and, we need to do more to protect and restore our nation’s iconic waters. Congress needs to step up and provide funding and the appropriate authorities to the EPA to restore these watersheds.

That is why I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues to prioritize and fund these programs. Congresswoman Luria has legislation to reauthorize and increase funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program; Congressman Heck has legislation to authorize a program for the Puget Sound; and Congresswoman Speier has legislation to address pollution issues in San Francisco Bay. I expect that we will see legislation later this Congress to address the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the National Estuary Program. I thank my colleagues for stepping up to deal with these important water quality issues.

Today’s hearing will be an opportunity to hear about current impairments, challenges, and recommendations for improving these important waters. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on the value of our nation’s waters and estuaries to our country.

Thank you witnesses for being here today.  Thank you especially to Tom Ford, Executive Director of The Bay Foundation, who is here today to talk about the Santa Monica National Estuary Program in Southern California.

I look forward to everyone’s testimony.  

Chair Napolitano’s remarks as delivered can be found here.