February 27, 2020

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Members’ Day Hearing on WRDA

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 Members’ Day Hearing to examine Members’ priorities in development of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA).

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chairwoman Napolitano for holding this hearing and welcome to our Colleagues who have joined us today to talk about their WRDA priorities. The Water Resources Development Act is an important component of our infrastructure discussion. 

Taking action to address our infrastructure needs is not optional – letting our roads, bridges, airports, transit systems, ports, and water systems crumble is creating a national crisis. Every day that we wait to act also means the price tag to fix our infrastructure goes up. This is why House Democrats recently released a framework that outlines how we can move our Nation into a new era of transporting people and goods, provide safe, clean and affordable water and wastewater services, and combat climate change in ways we’ve never done before.  This is also why enacting a WRDA bill every two years is important and a priority of this committee.

I am proud to have worked with former Chairman Shuster to restore this Committee’s tradition of moving a water resources development act every Congress. These bipartisan efforts have resulted in this Committee enacting three consecutive WRDA bills since 2014.

Today, we take another step in continuing that tradition for the 116th Congress, with the goal of enacting the fourth consecutive WRDA. 

Madam Chair, as we all know, WRDA bills provide the opportunity for communities and local sponsors to partner with the Corps for critical navigation, flood protection, and ecosystem restoration projects, as well as other civil works mission areas. 

Therefore, it is important that our Congressional colleagues have the opportunity to present their local priorities and how the Corps may be able to assist their districts, their constituents, and the nation.  Today’s hearing is another opportunity to continue that conversation.

One of my biggest priorities for WRDA 2020 is to finally unlock Federal investment in our nation’s ports and harbors.  As you may know, Congress worked with the Reagan Administration to create a mechanism to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for commercial ports from maritime shippers – called the Harbor Maintenance Tax.  This fee, directly levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal and inland ports, was meant to provide the Corps of Engineers with sufficient annual revenues to keep our ports in a good state of repair, and sustain our local, regional, and national economies that rely on the movement of goods and services through our commercial ports.

The good news is that we are currently collecting enough revenues to adequately maintain our commercial harbors – of all sizes – as well as critical infrastructure, such as breakwaters and jetties, associated with these commercial ports.

The bad news is that we refuse to spend this money – or more accurately, we collect this money, but then use these funds to offset other expenditures in the Federal government while the needs of our commercial ports continue to grow.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the full channels of the Nation’s 59 busiest ports are available less than 35 percent of the time.  For smaller commercial harbors, such as Coos Bay or Port Orford in my home State of Oregon, their dredging situations can be far worse.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that our Nation’s ports and harbors need additional investment of $15.8 billion just to meet the demands of larger and heavier ships that use the Panama Canal.  The Harbor Maintenance Tax provides ample revenues to meet these needs, but Congress has continued to siphon off these funds for other purposes.

For the past three Congresses, I have been working with Members on both sides of the aisle and I am proud to have received bipartisan support of my legislation H.R. 2440, the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act.  The House passed this legislation by a vote of 296 to 109 in October of last year and, if the Senate doesn’t move the legislation, I intend to include it in WRDA.

Thank you to Ranking Member Graves, Subcommittee Ranking Member Westerman, as well as Chairwoman Napolitano for your support of H.R. 2440.  I ask for my colleagues continued support ensuring that full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is enacted this Congress. Authorizing new projects while failing to provide the funding to build them doesn’t get us anywhere.  That’s why fixing the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is so important.

Thank you again for joining us today and I look forward to working with all of you in passing WRDA.

Chair DeFazio’s remarks as delivered can be found here

Chair Napolitano:

Last month, we welcomed Secretary James and General Semonite to testify on the chief’s reports and other projects that have been submitted to Congress and awaiting authorization. To date, we have 18 Chiefs’ reports and 10 Director’s Reports already submitted. We expect the Corps 7001 Report for 2020 shortly, and several more Chief’s Reports through the spring. 

Today, we welcome Members of the House who join us to present their Corps priorities that could be considered for WRDA.  The Army Corps of Engineers is the largest water manager in the nation.  The scope and depth of their work impacts every part of this country. The testimony we receive today will help to inform us on what matters most to our colleagues as we move forward with drafting legislation. 

WRDA has become a product of its own success. Our constituents demand and expect that we move forward in developing this legislation every Congress. I look forward to working with all of you in enacting a fourth consecutive WRDA.

Thank you to all Members who have made time to come before the Committee today. I look forward to your testimony.

Chair Napolitano’s remarks as delivered can be found here