January 12, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on the Administration’s 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: Administration Priorities.”

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

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Since 2014, this committee has been successful in enacting four consecutive, bipartisan WRDA bills, and today, we take our first step in continuing that tradition in the 117th Congress. 

In 2014, former Chairman Bill Shuster made a commitment to enacting a new water resources bill every two years. That tradition has continued, unabated, since that time, and biennial consideration of WRDA legislation is now the regular order of this committee. 

Enacting WRDAs each Congress provides a predictable timeline for non-federal project sponsors and the Corps alike as projects move through the study and construction phases. Most importantly, the timeline works. It allows for Congress’ timely consideration of the Corps’ important water infrastructure projects that provide benefits to communities across the nation.

In the last WRDA, we authorized 46 Chief’s Reports. That’s 46 projects ready for construction. That’s more projects than were authorized in ’16 and ’18 combined, showing 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.

The other side of that coin, as always, is providing funding to complete the work that Congress has authorized. The Corps has been laughably underfunded for decades, leading to a $100 billion backlog of projects that would provide enumerable benefits in flood risk reduction, ecosystem restoration, water supply, and navigation.

For too long, we have allowed our infrastructure to age and degrade, and have failed to modernize our systems to address current water resources challenges. If we have any hope of getting our water infrastructure above the current C-minus average grade provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers, we need to accurately value the essential work of the Corps to our economy, to our way of life, and to our environment.

Fortunately, Congress has responded by taking one large step in addressing the project backlog. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided over $17 billion dollars to the Corps, of which $11 billion is to be allocated specifically to project construction. This historic investment will have immediate and tangible benefits that will be felt by every American—reducing the prices of the goods and services we use, increasing the protection of our communities from flood and storm risks, and ensuring a safe and healthy environment for generations to come.

In that respect, this hearing with Assistant Secretary Connor and Lieutenant General Spellmon is quite timely—statutorily, the Corps only has a couple more days to finalize where those Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds will be spent.

I know everyone on this committee has been closely tracking that information as well as many of the other provisions that were passed within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I hope there are some updates you both can provide to the committee today.

Careful and expedient implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be a focus of the committee this year, as well as implementation of the policy changes included in the last few WRDA bills. 

For the past four Congresses, I have been working with members on both sides of the aisle to finally unlock federal investment for our nation’s ports and harbors. In WRDA 2020, we were able to finally make headway in that direction, so I will certainly be closely following implementation of those changes to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

In many ways, my 20-plus year effort to unlock critical harbor maintenance funds could not have happened at a better time, particularly when the global pandemic showed 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. Maintaining our inland waterways and coastal ports is a critical part of holding a competitive edge.

Additionally, I hope to see this committee continue its work in ensuring the Corps’ expertise is available and accessible to any community who needs it. That includes those with unique challenges, economic disadvantages, and those under severe threat from climate change impacts.

As we work to upgrade the country’s water infrastructure, we truly need to Build Back Better, and make sure that we are keeping an eye towards resiliency, innovative solutions, and future challenges. Our rural, Tribal, and disadvantaged communities cannot be left behind as we work to build and upgrade our water resources to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Madam Chair, I again thank you for your leadership on this important legislation, and I look forward to working with you, Ranking Member Graves, and Ranking Member Rouzer to continue our bipartisan tradition of enacting a Water Resources Development Act every two years. 

I want to thank Assistant Secretary Connor and General Spellmon for joining us today.  I look forward to an engaging dialogue with you and my colleagues on all of the critical work the Corps is currently doing, and how we can best partner with you in our formulation of a new WRDA bill.

Chair Napolitano:

I am pleased that our first hearing of the year is on the development of further legislation to benefit our nation’s economy, its environment, and the well-being of communities in every one of our congressional districts.

Today, we will begin the development of a new Water Resources Development Act for 2022, also known as WRDA, and I am pleased we will start with hearing from the Biden administration and the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers.

This committee, on a bipartisan basis, has now completed work on four consecutive WRDAs since 2014. Today’s hearing marks the beginning of our work on the fifth WRDA in a row.

This committee has been successful in enacting a WRDA every two years because our members recognize how critical the Corps’ work is to meeting the unique water resource needs of our communities.

Through biennial enactment of WRDA legislation, this committee has addressed local, regional, and national needs through authorization of new Corps projects, studies, and policies that benefit every corner of the nation.

However, all of the projects and studies authorized in WRDAs need appropriated funds for communities to realize the full navigation, flood control, and environmental benefits these projects provide. 

Last year, the Congress approved, and the president signed into law, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This critical legislation provides $17.1 billion to the Corps to address the backlog of vital construction and operation and maintenance activities on projects throughout the nation.

Additionally, the Jobs Act follows the Biden administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request—which I remind my colleagues, was the largest single budget request for the Corps in its history.

I was pleased that the Biden administration recommended sufficient funds to complete a dam safety project at Whittier Narrows in my district and I trust and hope that Corps will keep that in mind as it develops a spend plan for funds from the Jobs Act.

The combined funding from Jobs Act and annual appropriations and emergency supplemental bills is historic by any definition. This funding will allow for a game-changing, once-in-a-generation investment in our critical water resources infrastructure.

This critical funding will enable the Corps to carry out authorized projects across the country, which will finally help communities to address local flooding needs, will ensure sustainable and predicable water supply needs for arid regions, and will help to restore our nation’s environmental treasures.

In addition, we have all seen the impact that COVID-19 has had on our economy and supply chains. These investments will advance projects, especially dredging, in our coastal ports and inland waterways that are so critical to our economy. These projects will make it easier for American businesses to export their goods around the world and fuel our economy for the future. 

I am very pleased to have the top leadership for the Army Corps of Engineers before the committee today. Both Assistant Secretary Connor and Lieutenant General Spellmon bring years of experience and knowledge in managing the nation’s water resources needs.

I welcome you here today and look forward to hearing from you on priorities we should consider for the next WRDA, plans you have for the historic funding included in the Jobs Act, and updates on implementing policies from previous WRDAs, including one that I authored to review adding water supply to your core mission areas.

The committee also thanks you for transmitting the annual Report to Congress on Future Water Resources Development for 2021 or 7001 report this past November. These statutorily required reports help us as we seek to authorize studies and projects in WRDAs. I hope that you will both commit today that the 2022 Report will be submitted to Congress on time at the beginning of February of this year.

As I said earlier, this is our first hearing on WRDA ’22 and our subcommittee plans to hear additional perspectives in the weeks and months to come. I strongly encourage every member and their staff to work with their local Corps district to learn about projects in their communities.

I am fully committed to continuing our track record and completing another bipartisan WRDA and I value and appreciate the cooperation of the Ranking Member and your staff.

At this time, I am pleased to yield to my colleague, the Ranking Member of our subcommittee, Mr. Rouzer, for any thoughts he may have.