June 24, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from the Subcommittee’s First Hearing in a Series on President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request

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, “President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request: Agency Policies and Perspectives (Part 1).” 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 Chairwoman, for holding today’s hearing.

Today’s hearing is refreshing in that, for the first time in five years, I don’t feel like we are operating in two parallel universes. Finally, we have a budget in front of us that demonstrates this administration’s commitment to protecting our nation’s environment, investing in science, and putting real dollars towards our crumbling infrastructure. It is a budget that recognizes the critical role that the federal government plays in sustaining our economy, our environment, and our quality of life.

First and foremost, I am glad to see the highest numbers ever requested in a President’s budget for the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). This is also the highest amount ever requested to be transferred from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund—over $1.6 billion.

I have been working for over two decades—since the days of Chairman Bud Shuster—to unlock the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. At last, after successful enactment of my proposal in WRDA 2020, those dollars will finally be spent on the activities they were collected for, instead of sitting idle in the U.S. Treasury. I look forward to continued partnership with our Appropriations Committee colleagues to finally fully utilize the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund proceeds.

Other agencies within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction are also well-supported in this budget. In many cases, this budget restores significant funding levels to programs with community-level impacts, such as flood protection and resiliency to the threats of climate change. Properly funding these programs will restore and protect our ecosystems, will allow our local and national economies to thrive, and will help us to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century.

We, as members of Congress, are tasked with ensuring the strength and health of our nation, our economies, and our overall quality of life for future generations. Many of the agencies under this subcommittee have similar mission areas. Yet, we saw a lack of federal commitment to these goals throughout the entirety of the previous administration. Instead of protecting children and families from exposure to toxic chemicals, we saw corporate and polluter giveaways under the false notion of economic benefits.

The previous administration continuously brought us laughable budget proposals that ignored federal responsibility, or reality. Simultaneously, the last administration worked to dismantle and weaken existing law that protects our nation’s waters, public health, and the economy.

Separate from the numbers alone, I am glad to have these agency representatives before the subcommittee today to hear about their priorities and policy objectives for the new administration. There is certainly a lot of work to do to correct the missteps of the last administration and the war the former president waged on our environment and our most vulnerable communities. I hope to work with you all on some of the most egregious examples.

One of the most important, at least for this committee, will be the rewrite of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, known here as the Dirty Water Rule. This rule would have removed protections from up to 71 percent of streams, and more than 50 percent of wetlands. That is simply unconscionable.

I was pleased to hear the announcement that the Biden administration will overturn the Dirty Water Rule; however, I believe this rule must be immediately repealed and then replaced. Every day that the Dirty Water Rule remains in place, countless waters and wetlands are polluted, degraded, or destroyed, and American families will pay the cost of this destruction through more polluted waters, less protected drinking water sources, greater flood risk, and a degraded environment.

This is too high a cost to pay for inaction and I will continue to push this administration for the immediate repeal of the Dirty Water Rule.

I am also deeply concerned with another environmental reversal of the last administration, the rollback of pollution discharge requirements from coal-fired power plants. We know these discharges include arsenic, lithium, mercury, and selenium. We know each one is detrimental to the health of our waterways. I expect this corporate giveaway to also be reversed soon. In the meantime, I have read press reports that the Tennessee Valley Authority is trying to take advantage of this misguided rule and to continue discharging what I consider to be unsafe levels of toxic chemicals while this rule is under potential revision.

The Tennessee valley knows all too well the impacts of coal ash and coal pollution. I hope Mr. Lyash can shed some light on the TVA’s decisions and provide this committee with an update on issues associated with the health of contractors involved in the cleanup of the Kingston coal ash spill in 2008, which sadly, more than a decade later, continues to cost workers’ lives. Their families deserve answers.

Madam Chair, one other issue that was uniquely missing from the last administration was ensuring agency actions were developed with significant community engagement. This means meaningful involvement and consultation with tribes, rural communities, economically-disadvantaged communities, and minority communities.

Addressing environmental justice considerations and community engagement needs to become the norm again as we address how our environmental laws are developed and applied, and how our federal agencies communicate and discuss potential impacts of federal actions on local communities.

For example, I am pleased by the action of the Acting Assistant Secretary to overturn a last-minute policy of the last administration to exclude consultation with tribal communities in Clean Water Act jurisdictional decisions. However, that is just the start, and the Corps needs to continuously engage with Tribal, rural, and economically-disadvantaged communities, in both regulatory decisions and as it develops future water resources development projects.

I look forward to hearing where the Corps is on updating these consultation policies, as required by the WRDA 2020 bill.

Other aspects of WRDA 2020 should be a major priority as well. We truly passed a strong, bipartisan, and forward-looking bill last year. The Corps must swiftly implement the policies which will increase resiliency in projects; better utilize nature-based infrastructure options; provide access to lower-income communities; and truly maximize sustainable development.

As we look forward to real federal investment and implementation of the policy goals of the Biden administration, I hope to see continued support for the protection of our communities and our environment. We must be determined in restoring and renewing our federal commitments to clean water and modern, resilient infrastructure.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

Chair Napolitano:

Today, we will discuss the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget request and other policy goals and objectives of the Biden administration.

Let me start by commending the Biden administration for restoring critical funding and respect to the agencies under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee and recognizing the essential role that these agencies play in addressing the critical water resources and human health needs of our communities.

As we all remember, the previous administration tried to singlehandedly gut the expertise and authorities of Federal agencies, both by systematically trying to roll-back environmental protections, as well as by slashing agency funding to prevent hard working federal employees from doing the job that we directed them to do, and that provides critical economic, environmental, and public health benefits to the American people.

This year, it is refreshing to see that President Biden’s budget request restores the funding levels that are necessary to accomplish the important work of all the agencies under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

This request would provide funding for critical Army Corps of Engineers projects across the country, which will provide communities with flood protection, water supply, and environmental restoration. I am pleased to see this request includes sufficient funds to complete a dam safety project at Whittier Narrows.

For the Corps, the fiscal year 2022 budget request represents the largest single budget request for the Corps in its history.

The budget also calls for the largest transfer of critical navigation maintenance funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. These dollars will fund operation and maintenance projects at our coastal ports which strongly support our economy and keep us globally competitive. Such projects will be essential as we come out of the covid-19 pandemic which had devastating impacts on our export economy.

The budget request also maintains funding for agencies with large regional impacts, like the International Boundary and Water Commission. These agencies have an important role to play in managing water supplies in the Southwest, for keeping our border waters clean, safe, and reliable, and for implementing aspects of drought contingency plans with Mexico and Western states on the Colorado River.

At the same time, the administration is now reviewing the nearly 100 environmental rules that were weakened or revoked altogether by the previous administration. Today, I hope to hear your plans to correct these wrongdoings and return to the protection of our environment and resources, rather than the protection of polluters and their bottom lines.

The reality is Americans know that protecting our waters creates economic growth with healthy communities and clean water for residential and business use.

As the Administration looks at the many environmental protections that have been attacked over the last four years, there are certainly some priority areas for this subcommittee. Overall, we need to ensure the protection of our waterways and the availability of clean water for every community.

For example, I was heartened to hear that the Biden administration proposes to replace the Dirty Water Rule – which was the single largest rollback in clean water protections in the history of the Clean Water Act. However, I remain concerned that every day the Dirty Water Rule remains in place, additional waters (including seasonal rivers and streams in the West and wetlands across the country) are being polluted, degraded, or destroyed.

We will also need to address rules which failed to protect children from toxic chemicals, such as the Coal Ash Storage Rule and the Steam Electric effluent guidelines rule. These weakened rules will have devastating impacts on families near facilities that produce such toxic pollution, and communities even beyond them.

We also need to address rules which failed to give communities a voice or choice in highly impactful projects. Whether the project is pipelines that may cut through entire communities, or open-pit mines that threaten their natural resources or way of life, we cannot leave minority, rural, or tribal voices out of the conversation.

Today, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on your budget priorities and learning how you are planning to restore your offices to their sworn duties and mission areas that were so neglected over the past four years.