July 13, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on 2024 Budget Request for EPA and Other Agencies

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Review of Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request: Agency Perspectives (Part II).”

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

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Chairman Rouzer and Ranking Member Napolitano for holding this second hearing on the Administration’s FY 2024 budget request for agencies within the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

First, let me congratulate Ranking Member Napolitano on her service to Congress and the United States. Since 2007, Grace has been a trailblazing member of this Committee—fighting to make our waters cleaner and our transportation system safer and greener.

As former Chair of this Subcommittee, Grace was instrumental in delivering historic, bipartisan solutions to national, regional, and local water resources challenges—shepherding four of the last five WRDA bills and advancing the first reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in its history.

She has been a tireless advocate for smart, resilient water policy and robust water investments—making sure that her communities and communities across the United States are prepared for the challenges they will face with a changing climate.

Finally, Grace has been a leader in ensuring a voice for our underrepresented communities, including communities of color and tribal communities. 

I wish her the very best for the remainder of her service and for her future endeavors after her time in Congress.

Mr. Chairman, these budget hearings offer important opportunities to discuss how the administration’s priorities for the federal agencies we oversee line up with congressional priorities and expectations.

The Committee’s oversight responsibility over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies on the panel today extends to money that has already been appropriated, including by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

In the BIL, on a bipartisan basis, Congress affirmed its commitment to water infrastructure with a significant investment—$12.7 billion in federal dollars for upgrading wastewater systems, preventing pollution and supporting restoration programs in places like the Puget Sound where I’m from.

These investments are critical, providing a lifeline to communities across the country struggling to maintain water quality. Members who voted for the BIL voted for clean water.

We have consistently supported investments in water infrastructure to protect public health and the work EPA and other agencies do in support of this clean water mission.

I know firsthand the importance of the EPA’s regional watershed program for the Puget Sound.

The increased focus and federal resources associated with EPA’s regional programs for the Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and other critical regional waterbodies, are vitally important to the communities Members on this Committee represent.

Clean bodies of water enhance the quality of life, the economy and the health of the communities that surround them. Maintaining robust federal funding for EPA, and defending against potential cuts in the FY2024 appropriations process, will continue to be a top priority for House Democrats. All the agencies here today provide important services when it comes to clean water across the country.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service assists local communities in carrying out watershed projects for flood protection, water management, and ecosystem enhancement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has many programs and activities, including work on harmful algal blooms and National Coastal Zone Management.

The International Boundary and Water Commission implements the various boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, with its impact felt from the Tijuana River to the Rio Grande.

And finally, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is a vital part of our nation’s public health system that assesses the presence and nature of health hazards at Superfund sites. I would note that 15% of their staff was sent to East Palestine just to deal with one train derailment.

I look forward to the testimony and thank each of the witnesses for your participation in today’s hearing.

Ranking Member Napolitano:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing on President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget and priorities for the remaining agencies within the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.

I welcome our federal witnesses here today—many of whom I have spoken to often about the unique water resources challenges facing our nation and the regions and communities we are honored to represent. 

I want to extend a special welcome to Assistant Administrator Fox and Commissioner Giner. The federal agencies and offices you serve have seen, firsthand, the challenges posed by climate change and extreme weather, including persistent drought, in providing continued clean, safe, reliable, and affordable water and wastewater services for the nation.

Thank you for your continued and dedicated service to our nation.

Mr. Chairman, annual budget proposals of the administration and Congressional leaders provide valuable insight into the goals and priorities of their authors.

Annual budgets provide an objective way to compare competing visions for the future of our country and for what we stand for in representing our constituents.

This year, the contrasts are stark and telling.

The Biden administration’s proposal lays out a bold vision to grow the economy from the bottom up, to invest in cleaner, greener, and more accessible infrastructure, to create jobs and opportunities for all people, and to restore and protect our environment.

That is the same vision shared by House Democrats, who, last Congress, passed the largest infrastructure investments in over a generation through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as other transformational infrastructure investment bills, such as the first reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in its history.

With each dollar invested and each new water and wastewater infrastructure project implemented, everyday Americans will continue to reap the benefits of these transformational laws through reduced transportation congestion, cleaner air and cleaner water, and a safer, more resilient, and more livable environment. 

Mr. Chairman, House Democrats specifically tailored these investments to address the affordability concerns facing many minority, rural, and tribal communities—ensuring that all Americans, regardless of zip code, should have access to clean, safe, and reliable drinking and wastewater services.

However, I remain concerned that the current Republican leadership of the House is moving this country in a direction contrary to the will of the American people. For example, House Republican leadership advanced a debt limit proposal that sought to hold hostage the “full faith and credit” of our economy while blindly slashing critical investments in our economy, our infrastructure, and our quality of life.

While, thanks to the leadership of President Biden, everyday families were spared the worse of this misguided proposal, it is apparent that Republican leadership continues to advance their draconian cuts even today.

These cuts are most apparent in the projected 40% cut to the budget of EPA—an agency founded on the principal of safeguarding the health of our citizens and our natural environment. 

Mr. Chairman, every week, there is another story about the impacts of climate change on our communities—whether it be the extreme rains in the Northeast, excessive heat in the South and Southwest, or continued drought conditions in communities across the U.S. However, if the House Republican proposal becomes law, all our communities will be more vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events and flooding—especially those least able to afford measures to make their communities more resilient, such as rural, tribal, and minority communities.

If the House Republican proposal becomes law, fewer Americans will have access to clean water and clean air, and our treasured regional waterbodies, such as the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Florida Everglades, will be placed at greater risk.

I am further dismayed by their focus on putting polluters over people and eliminating Clean Water Act protections on over half of the nation’s wetlands and up to 70% of the nation’s streams, rivers, and lakes.

Last month, the Supreme Court’s misguided reading of the Clean Water Act undermined our nation’s ability to protect our rivers, streams, and other waterbodies for future generations—the consequences of which are still undefined.

Earlier this week, we called upon EPA and the Corps to start documenting the actual, day-to-day impacts of the Sackett decision. The American people deserve to know how this decision impacts the protection of the rivers, streams, and wetlands in their own backyards and its adverse economic impact on our local businesses and communities.

I am most concerned that the Sackett decision has transferred significant costs from polluters to states, localities, and everyday American families. 

We can all say we support clean water—but I believe that those who receive an economic benefit from activities that may pollute our waters should not be able to profit by transferring that cost to others. 

I hope we all know that it is always cheaper to prevent pollution from occurring than to clean up its aftermath.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how the Congress and the Administration can work together to invest in our water infrastructure and protect clean water for residential, recreational, environmental, and economic uses.

Mr. Chairman, I welcome our agency witnesses here today, thank you for your continued service, and yield back the balance of my time.