February 03, 2014

Remarks of Ranking Member Rahall; Water Resources Reform and Development Act Conference

The Honorable Nick J. Rahall, II

Ranking Member

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Conference Committee on

H.R. 3080, the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013”

and the Senate Amendment

November 20, 2013

Madam Chairman, let me begin by congratulating you on being elected as Chairman of the Conference and welcoming all of the Members of the Conference.  As we discussed yesterday with Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member Vitter, we all come here with a mutual desire to develop a path forward that gets this important water resources legislation to the desk of the President for his signature. 

It has been six long years since Congress last enacted an Army Corps of Engineers water resources bill.  Since 2007, we have seen major floods on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Hurricane Sandy decimating the East Coast, and the loss of depth and viability at many of our Nation’s small and large harbors.   These water- and storm-related issues have stretched and strained our aging water and storm protection infrastructure to the point where we have to find new ways to invest to maintain our water infrastructure and protect our economy.

One of the important reforms included in H.R. 3080, the “Water Resources Reform Development Act”, is the project review and approval process established under the bill.  This process accomplishes two very important goals.  First, as the earmark ban has gone into full effect, more and more of Congress’  authority over where the Corps invests in projects has been ceded to the Administration.  The H.R. 3080 project review and approval process restores Congressional authority over the Army Corps of Engineers and ensures that we fulfill our Constitutional obligations of the power of the purse.  Second, the bill addresses the significant backlog of Corps projects – an estimated $60 billion worth – that limits our ability to authorize new water projects.

In addition, the House bill includes other important policy reforms, including:

  • reforming the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to ensure that the taxes collected are used for their intended purposes;

  • addressing the role of non-Federal sponsors in supporting and contributing to the timely completion of water projects;

and, most importantly,  

  • ensuring that water resources infrastructure investments create jobs, protect the middle class, and grow the economy. 

These jobs range from shipping coal, grains, and other agricultural commodities along our inland waterways, to protecting cities and towns from devastating floods, to ensuring that our Nation’s ports are prepared for the post-PANAMAX vessels that will ply the East Coast in just a few years.

In closing, I would note that the fiscal challenges facing us are significant.  As this Conference Committee meets, a separate Conference Committee on the Budget is meeting to determine whether the House and Senate can agree to changes to budget sequestration that will allow us to protect critical programs, like the Corps of Engineers.  I have no doubt that every Member of Congress sitting around this conference table has a direct need for Corps of Engineers support for harbors, levees, canals, or flood protection in his or her State.  The problem we face is that, as the needs for our water infrastructure grow daily, our traditional budgetary mechanisms to address these needs diminish.  As we work through the Conference process on this bill, we must ensure that we protect critical Corps capabilities while establishing a clear path to future protection of our infrastructure. 

I encourage all of us to work together, listen to each other, and produce a Conference Report that we can all support