February 08, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Stakeholder Priorities for WRDA 2022

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, “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2022: Stakeholder Priorities.”

Videos of opening statements from DeFazio and Napolitano can be found hereand here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Today, this committee continues its bipartisan work on the next biennial Water Resources Development Act, the fifth since the successful 2014 Act passed under former Chairman Bill Shuster.

Every two years, this committee brings together the Corps, non-federal project sponsors, other state and local stakeholders, Tribal governments, and members from both sides of the aisle to enact a new water resources bill. Last month, we started the process for the 117th Congress by holding a hearing with the Corps. Today, we hear from a number of stakeholders about their priorities and their experiences working with the Corps. In the weeks ahead, we will have a third hearing to hear from members of the House about their goals for WRDA 2022.

Enacting WRDAs through this bipartisan, predictable timeline is Congress at its best. It not only provides oversight of the Corps as it implements authorized projects, but also ensures Congress provides timely consideration of new Chiefs Reports.

In WRDA 2020, we authorized 46 Chief’s Reports. That’s 46 projects ready for construction. That’s more projects than were authorized in 2016 and 2018 combined, proving that if this committee can do our part as authorizers, the Corps can do their job in studying, planning, and designing projects to address the country’s urgent needs in water infrastructure.

Every member understands the important work that the Corps does in their district. We see firsthand the projects that provide enumerable benefits through flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage reduction, ecosystem restoration, water supply, and improved navigation. And today we will hear from a diverse range of witnesses highlighting these types of projects in their local communities.

We are starting the WRDA 2022 process at a critical time. The global pandemic and the surge in consumer demand have shown the vulnerability of our overburdened ports. We must be investing more in our nation’s ports and harbors in order to keep America competitive in the global economy. As with the America COMPETES Act considered by the House last week, WRDA 2022 will ensure we maintain a competitive edge in the global economy.

As we authorize new projects, the other side of that coin, as always, is ensuring that the Corps has the funding necessary to complete the work. We all know of the $100 billion backlog of projects due to underfunding of the Corps for decades. Fortunately, in another step towards ensuring we maintain America’s competitive edge, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided over $17 billion to the Corps to Build Back Better ports, harbors, and inland waterways across the country, while creating jobs, economic opportunity, and strengthening our water infrastructure.

In WRDA 2020, after decades of effort, we were able to permanently unlock federal investment for our nation’s ports and harbors through changes to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. We face a critical need for continued investment in our water infrastructure, but we have laid the foundation for success through laws like WRDA 2020 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Now is the time for building on that success with a fifth-consecutive WRDA.

For over 20 years, I have worked with members on both sides of the aisle for the good of our nation’s water infrastructure, and this WRDA will be no different. I thank you, Madam Chair, for your leadership on this subcommittee and this important legislation. And I look forward to continue working with Ranking Member Graves and Ranking Member Rouzer in sustaining our bipartisan tradition of enacting a Water Resources Development Act every two years.

I want to thank our witnesses for joining us today. Your testimony will remind my colleagues of the critical work the Corps is doing in communities across the nation. All of us represent communities like yours that have needs that can be met by the Corps through WRDA. As we work on WRDA 2022, it is particularly important that we ensure that our rural, Tribal, and disadvantaged communities cannot be left behind. To that end, the committee will hear from two Tribal witnesses on their work with the Corps.   

I look forward to an engaging dialogue with our witnesses on how we can best partner with our local communities during the formulation of WRDA 2022.

Chair Napolitano:

Today, the subcommittee will receive testimony from an array of state, local, and Tribal leaders, as well as other stakeholders on their priorities for the forthcoming WRDA legislation. 

Many of our witnesses here today have years of experience in working with the Corps to address the unique, local water resources needs of their states, their communities, and their tribal lands, and your input is invaluable to Congress as it develops a new WRDA bill.

We will also hear about potential improvements to how the Corps formulates and constructs critical water resources development projects, especially as they relate to partnerships with Tribal nations.

This committee, on a bipartisan basis, has now completed work on four consecutive WRDAs since 2014, and I am confident that this tradition will continue in partnership with my good friend and the subcommittee Ranking Member, Mr. Rouzer.

This committee is successful because all of our members trust and recognize how critical the Corps’ work is to meet the unique water resource needs in our communities—and how important regular, predicable authorization of WRDA is to meet these needs.

However, as I noted at our last WRDA hearing in January, all of the projects and studies authorized in WRDAs need appropriated funds for communities to realize the full navigation, flood control, water supply and environmental benefits that these projects provide. 

Fortunately, under the leadership of President Biden, Congress responded by enacting the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $17.1 billion to the Corps to carry out critical construction, operation, and maintenance activities in every corner of the United States.
How critical is this historic funding?

Well, the Chief of Engineers testified that it provides “a once-in-a-generation window of opportunity to deliver water resources infrastructure programs and projects that will positively impact the lives of communities across this great nation.”

Let me repeat that—a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to fund the projects and studies that we authorize through our regular WRDA bills.

For example, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funds the initial elements of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project—a critical project to the future of my constituents and the Los Angeles region.

The BIL also provides close to $1.1 billion to restore Florida’s Everglades ecosystem—historic funding levels that will greatly advance efforts these efforts – as well as funding for the Brandon Road Aquatic Nuisance Species barrier protecting the Great Lakes.

The BIL also makes critical investments in coastal and inland navigation projects, ranging from the Soo Locks in Michigan, to the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam project in Illinois, to the Kentucky Lock and Dam in Kentucky, to the Norfolk Harbor project in Virginia.

And it as well provides essential investments to local flood protection projects ranging from Seward, Alaska, to Winslow, Arizona, to Southwest Coastal Louisiana, to the City of Norfolk, Virginia.

And what is the common thread between ALL these projects? All received their authorizations through recent WRDA legislation but can now—finally—proceed to construction because of enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Last month, the Biden administration presented its priorities for inclusion in a new WRDA.  Today, we give our stakeholders a chance to give their perspectives on the projects and policies that should be included.
I am particularly honored that we will hear from two, respected Tribal Chairmen, and learn of their experiences in working with the Corps over the generations.

We have all heard lingering concerns about how the federal government has failed its treaty obligations with Native Americans and their Tribal heritage lands. In this regard, the Corps has had, what some Tribal leaders have called, a “spotty” relationship with the tribes.

To address this concern, Congress included language in WRDA 2020 to require the Corps to “promote meaningful involvement” and consultation with Native Tribes, as well as other environmental justice communities.

In addition, with the confirmation of Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Mike Connor, and the appointment of his Principal Deputy, Jamie Pinkham, the Biden Administration has chosen to incorporate Tribal voices directly into the decision making of the Corps.

Between these two actions, it is my hope to formally engrain a new culture of cooperation between the Corps and Native Americans in the formulation of water resources projects and other Corps regulatory actions.

I want to welcome all our witnesses here this morning, and I am grateful for your willingness to share your views and perspectives on what we should consider as we aim to complete enactment of five bipartisan WRDA’s in a row.

I now yield to my great partner in the formulation of a new WRDA bill, Mr. Rouzer, for any comments and thoughts he might have on this matter.