March 23, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Status of WRDA 2020 Implementation

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, “The Water Resources Development Act of 2020: Status of Essential Provisions.” Videos of opening statements from Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Madam Chair. 

In many ways, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) for 2020 was ground-breaking in providing direction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for carrying out critical navigation, flood damage reduction, and environmental restoration projects.

First, the bill continued the tradition restarted by former Chair Bill Shuster of moving a new, bipartisan WRDA each Congress—representing the fourth consecutive WRDA since 2014.

That would not have been possible without the partnership of Ranking Member Sam Graves, Subcommittee Chair Grace Napolitano, and former Subcommittee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, who worked hard in developing this critical legislation—and knowing the new Subcommittee Ranking Member, David Rouzer, I feel confident that this Congress we will enact the fifth WRDA in a row.

WRDA 2020 also successfully authorized the construction of all 46 pending Reports of the Chief of Engineers that were studied and transmitted to Congress since the last WRDA was signed into law. This was a record number of Chief’s Reports, almost matching the number of authorized projects in WRDA 2016 and 2018 combined.

Regular enactment of WRDAs send a signal of predictability to the Corps and to non-federal sponsors that Congress can and will, on a bipartisan basis, authorize water resources development projects in a transparent and efficient manner—and hopefully address local water resources challenges.

But what sets WRDA 2020 apart from other recently enacted WRDAs is the significant policy reforms that were included in the bill—and in my mind, none was more important than one I have worked to enact for nearly two decades on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

WRDA 2020 finally ensures the full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by unlocking critical funds collected from shippers for harbor maintenance that have sat idle in the Trust Fund for decades.

The Corps has already informed the Committee that it has the capability to obligate the $2 billion in critical maintenance dredging funds authorized in WRDA for the coming fiscal year. 

In addition, over the next decade, WRDA 2020 authorizes continually increasing amounts of annual maintenance funding to a point where we should not only spend down the estimated accrued $10 billion balance currently in the Trust Fund, but also address the complete backlog of maintenance dredging projects, for all sizes of ports, within the next few years.

Ensuring that the funds collected for harbor maintenance are used to maintain the safety and reliability of our nation’s ports is just common sense. And, again, I want to thank Ranking Member Graves for joining me in a letter earlier this year urging the Biden administration to make sure these funds are utilized. 

WRDA 2020 also recognizes the important role that the inland waterways play in our nation and provides a cost share shift to help in completing construction of much needed inland projects for 10 years. 

The bill will also be remembered as providing the strongest direction yet to the Corps on ensuring that future water resources development projects are both resilient to the challenges posed by climate change, as well as reflect the needs of economically-disadvantaged, minority, rural, and tribal communities.

For example, this legislation directs the Corps to finally implement changes to its planning guidance that Congress established in 2007. 

These critical revisions to the Water Resources Principles, Requirements, and Standards will ensure that future Corps’ projects will maximize sustainable development, will protect and restore the functions of natural systems, and affordably address the needs of economically-disadvantaged, rural, small, and tribal communities.

In addition, WRDA 2020 further integrates resiliency into the Corps planning and design process, helping communities meet the current and future challenges of changing hydrologic conditions and repetitive and more frequent flooding events.

Thanks to WRDA 2020, taxpayer dollars will be focused on robust infrastructure that will contribute to the resiliency of communities across the country, and where appropriate, utilize natural and nature-based features for providing long term, flooding and storm damage risk reduction.

WRDA 2020 also ensures that all communities, especially communities with socio-economic challenges, have a path forward in getting the tools they need for flood protection and ecosystem restoration.

And this legislation, finally, directs the Corps to update its policies related to environmental justice to ensure that water resources development projects help to ameliorate disproportionate and adverse health and environmental impacts on low-income and minority communities and Indian tribes.

Madam Chair, the Water Resources Development Act is essential to communities throughout the country that depend on the efficient, safe, and affordable use of ports, harbors and inland waterways. 

Our economy, our safety, and our environment will benefit from quick and thorough implementation of the policy reforms in WRDA 2020.

I am proud of our work on this bill, and I urge the Biden administration and the Corps to quickly implement the critical reforms included in this transformational WRDA.

Chair Napolitano:

Good Morning.

Today, we will begin the Subcommittee’s oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by discussing steps to implement the Water Resources Development Act of 2020.

The Corps is – simply put – the nation’s premier water resources agency. Congress has vested the Corps with significant responsibility to carry out vital projects for navigation, flood damage reduction, ecosystem restoration, water supply, and a host of other project purposes.

It is critical that the Corps prioritize immediate implementation of the critical policies enacted in WRDA to address the protection and well-being of our communities and environment, as well as to meet the maintenance needs of our water resources infrastructure – both of which are so critical to our national, regional, and local economies.

This Committee, on a bipartisan basis, has now successfully enacted four consecutive Water Resources Development Acts since 2014.

Regular enactment of WRDAs is critical because of the predictability it provides to local sponsors, who partner with the Corps for the development of feasibility studies for future water resources development projects. 

At the same time, regular enactment of WRDAs also gives Congress the opportunity to provide regular oversight and direction to the Corps on how it should develop and implement these projects.

This Subcommittee has a unique interest in how the Corps implements WRDA laws. We want to know that the Corps implements the law as Congress intended, and ensure that the Corps remains responsive to national, regional, and local priorities and to a changing climate.

WRDA2020 demonstrated the strong, bipartisan support for increasing the resiliency of our infrastructure, and finally providing the Corps with the tools outlined over a decade ago to address new and increasing challenges to our water infrastructure in a way that improves our environment, addresses social inequities, and stimulates economic opportunity.

I am specifically interested in WRDA provisions we included that improve the National Dam Safety Program, the inclusion of nature-based alternatives, and the consideration of a community’s water supply needs as a primary mission area for the Corps. My district includes Corps dams built many years ago that need both safety improvements and revisions of their outdated water control manuals to more effectively help local communities with water supply.

I am also proud of policies in WRDA2020 that will engage more communities – especially minority and Tribal communities – in the Corps process and provide them with better access to these beneficial projects.

I hope that those provisions addressing environmental justice concerns, repetitive flooding, and affordability will be among the top priorities for Corps implementation.

I would also like to emphasize the importance of changes made in WRDA2020 that unlock additional funds for harbor maintenance needs around the country. My region includes the largest ports in the nation, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.

I am glad to have Mr. Gene Seroka from the Port of Los Angeles here today to discuss the backlog of maintenance needs at our ports and harbors, and how WRDA 2020 will provide critical support in ensuring the viability and efficiency of our ports for decades to come.

I would like to thank our entire panel of stakeholders who are here today, who will help us to understand the impacts and importance of these policies once they are fully implemented.

As the Corps develops implementation guidance for the policy provisions included in WRDA2020, your perspectives and insight will be critical to prioritizing issues that will have the greatest benefit to our nation.