May 22, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Titus Statements from Hearing on Disaster Preparedness

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 Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled: “Disaster Preparedness: DRRA Implementation and FEMA Readiness.”

Chair DeFazio:

I’m glad that we’re holding this important hearing today regarding FEMA’s implementation of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, or DRRA, and the readiness of the emergency management workforce as we head into hurricane and wildfire seasons.

I was proud to help draft DRRA and was pleased to see it enacted as Division B of last year’s FAA reauthorization.

In an era of historic disagreement over so many issues in Congress, DRRA enjoyed significant bipartisan and bicameral support. Disasters don’t care if you’re a liberal or conservative; whether you live on a coast or on the plains; or whether you believe in climate change or not. Disasters happen regardless of our differences, and each one is a catastrophe for survivors.

DRRA is intended to build more resilient communities and encourage better behavior before and after disaster strikes. As we’ll likely hear many times today, we know – for a fact – that for every dollar invested in mitigation to make our communities stronger before disaster strikes, the taxpayer saves $4 in future disaster response and recovery costs.

As the Chairwoman noted, DRRA furthers the goal of investing in mitigation before disaster strikes by establishing a steady funding stream for FEMA's Predisaster Mitigation program. This new stream of pre-disaster mitigation spending compliments the existing stream of post-disaster hazard mitigation assistance provided for each major disaster.

In the run-up to DRRA’s enactment, we had several bipartisan conversations with FEMA confirming that the Agency understands the intent of this new stream of pre-disaster funding as mandatory, which will provide consistency to a program with a proven record of saving taxpayers money. I’m eager to learn more about the status of this new program and when states can expect guidance.

Another section that I am looking for an update on deals with building codes.

I’ve noted many times how nonsensical it is that the federal government pays to rebuild communities after a disaster back to inadequate standards only to have those facilities destroyed again by a later disaster — with the federal government once again on the hook for the cost of rebuilding.

Under DRRA, this nonsense will finally stop. DRRA requires communities to rebuild to the latest consensus-based, design standards and in a more resilient manner, thereby ensuring stronger, smarter facilities going forward. The cycle of repeatedly rebuilding and repairing disaster-damaged public infrastructure should finally end.

Although FEMA must define "resilient" and "resiliency" pursuant to regulations within two years of the date of enactment of this Act, FEMA is required to adopt guidance to immediately implement the "resiliency" requirements of this legislation. The need for resilient construction has become even more apparent after the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and wildfire seasons.

FEMA must use this opportunity to invest taxpayer funds wisely while saving lives and reducing injuries. FEMA has the ability to ensure that the United States leads the way in disaster recovery, and I urge FEMA to seize this moment.

I am also looking forward to an update on changes to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.  A state receives HMGP funds when a disaster is declared. However, prior to passage of DRRA, HMGP funds were not provided when a State received a Fire Management Assistance Grant to respond to wildfires on non-Federal lands.

This made little sense because wildfires destroy the landscape, often causing mudslides and flooding that then result in a disaster declaration. I am pleased that DRRA included language to ensure that States will receive HMGP funds if they have received an FMAG to respond to wildfires.

With HMGP funds, States will be able to restore landscapes and vegetation destroyed by wildfires and make the land less susceptible to future mudslides and floods. This legislation also clarifies that wildfire-related mitigation activities are eligible under both the PDM and HMGP programs. Together, these provisions will help prevent wildfires and related disasters.

Finally, DRRA also clarified that earthquake-related activities are eligible for mitigation assistance.

I pushed for this provision because the West Coast faces the most risk from multiple and extreme earthquakes, and Oregon is long overdue for an earthquake and tsunami resulting from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Unfortunately, the United States' earthquake early warning system lags far behind those of some other nations.

Clarifying for grantees that mitigation funds are available for earthquake-related activities will save lives and reduce injuries in a future disaster.

In closing, I look forward to the update from FEMA on all of these issues as well as the testimony from all of our witnesses. We are fast approaching the two year anniversaries of Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and still debating a disaster supplemental to address not only lingering issues from those events, but other devastating floods, hurricanes, and wildfires that ravaged communities across the nation during the last two years.

It's vitally important that FEMA – and the emergency management community at all levels of government – have the capacity they need to help impacted survivors and communities recover with as little red tape as possible. Thank you again for your efforts.

Chair DeFazio’s statement as delivered can be found here.

Chair Titus:

I want to take a minute to make a statement to address the comments that were made by the President this morning that directly impacts and threatens this subcommittee’s work.

As you all in this room know, and we on the committee know, this nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. As a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I’m committed to working with anyone who is serious about making the sound, long-term investments that will boost our economy. But today the President showed that apparently he’s not very serious.

In fact, he said that he won’t work with Congress on any legislation – even if it benefits this country – unless Congress ignores its Constitutional responsibility to carry out oversight of the Administration. If the President wants to hold good-paying jobs hostage, that’s his choice, but it certainly isn’t mine. And I don’t believe it is of this committee.

This subcommittee has jurisdiction for overseeing the General Services Administration – the government agency that the Office of Inspector General said “improperly ignored the Emoluments Clauses” when it let Trump keep his D.C. hotel and openly profit from the presidency. We have serious questions about that and this Administration’s decision to stop the FBI from relocating its headquarters, thereby preventing a potential hotel competitor from moving in.

The President wants to present us with a false choice between legislating and investigating. Well we’re not going to accept that deal. It is beneath the dignity of the office for the President to suggest that he’ll allow bridges to collapse, airports to overcrowd, and ports to deteriorate unless we end our investigations. It’s the intent of this committee to move forward on both of those fronts because that’s our charge.

I want to thank our witnesses for joining us today as we examine how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is implementing the Disaster Recovery Reform Act – or DRRA – as well as take a look at the readiness of the emergency management workforce on the eve of wildfire and hurricane seasons. Over many years and through several catastrophic disasters, this Subcommittee has worked with FEMA and the broader emergency management stakeholder community to examine the challenges our nation faces as natural disasters continue to strike with more frequency and greater intensity. The result is DRRA, which is a transformative update to the Stafford Act.

There are some who believe that climate change is a hoax and others who believe that any threat is limited only to coastal residents, but it’s impossible to dispute the rising costs of natural disasters and the fact that there are investments that can be made to build greater resilience across the country. The impacts of these more regular one-percent-chance rain storms, longer flood seasons, stronger hurricanes that barrel further inland, and extremely large and intense wildfire complexes must be lessened – they’re a threat to the health and safety of tens of millions of Americans.

With DRRA, Congress has signaled the importance of building resilience so that Americans and communities impacted by disaster are able to get up on their feet again, with minimal losses of life or property. I’m assuming the President agrees, otherwise he could have vetoed it. Each of us up here at some point in our lives has noted that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. DRRA is the statutory embodiment of that.

We know – based upon the analysis of the National Institute for Building Sciences – that significant cost savings can be found in mitigation projects and the adoption of consensus-based building codes and standards:

-There’s $11 in savings for every $1 spent building to the 2018 International Residential Code and International Building Code;

-There’s $6 in savings from future disaster response and recovery spending for every $1 in FEMA, EDA, and HUD mitigation grants; and

-There’s $4 in savings for every $1 spent building above and beyond certain hazard mitigation measures in the 2015 International Building Code.

That’s a lot of money we could save from future disaster supplementals.

DRRA provides stable funding for a new national Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, and also makes changes to Stafford targeted specifically at addressing the staggering wildfire challenge facing the West. It also encourages communities to build back to the most recent, strongest consensus-based codes and standards. Since the Federal Government is paying for at least 75 percent of major disaster recovery costs, it’s necessary for us to protect our investment by requiring stronger, smarter, and more resilient rebuilding. But here we are – on the verge of the busiest time of year for emergency managers, and approaching two years after the devastating impacts of Harvey, Irma, Maria, and countless catastrophic wildfires in the West – and progress on DRRA implementation has been slow, and FEMA’s workforce is stretched thin.

My colleagues and I are eager to hear about your progress, but we also want you to understand how important it is that the Agency seize this opportunity to be bold in implementing these changes, because the scale of the disasters impacting this country isn’t letting up.

Chair Titus’ statement as delivered can be found here.