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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2007

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2007

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Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, I claim the remainder of our time.

I want to express my appreciation to Chairman Oberstar, Chairman Johnson and of course my ranking member, Mr. Mica, for their very diligent and hard work; more specifically, for the time spent in the great State of Louisiana after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. The committee has come down, Members often more than once, to observe for themselves the damage that has been caused by this unbelievable natural catastrophe.

The bill under consideration today will begin an enormous and monumental project for the restoration of coastal Louisiana. It is not just about keeping people with the ability to live on the water's edge; it is giving the ability to stop the storm surge coming inland and bringing about the type of devastation that we have painfully experienced again.

This legislation is a landmark, certainly for the traditional reasons. Many Members have interests in projects for economic development reasons, for control of public water systems, for enhancing water runoff and minimizing agricultural and other sources of contamination to our water systems. But this bill is really important for maintenance of life and quality of life in our State, and it will begin the meaningful restoration of what is a tremendous natural asset, coastal Louisiana.

I would emphasize what has already been stated repeatedly: this is a process resulting in over 600 projects which has come about over a 6-year period. And so it is my deepest hope that this House will this evening favorably adopt 1495, that the Senate will work expeditiously with us in moving forward, and that the administration will find a way to sign this important jobs bill into law.

$13.1 billion is a lot of money, and when coupled with the local matched dollars which are required, it will be a significant shot in the economic arm for the construction industry across this country. So I am most appreciative of the opportunity to have participated in this process.

I am grateful to my Democratic colleagues for their kind and hard work on this subject and listening to the people of Louisiana in their hour of need. For that we are and will always be most appreciative.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, I just want to speak for a moment as to process and my appreciation for the manner in which the chairman handled this particular legislation. At the time of some of the subcommittee consideration, there were some Members who had not completed the necessary documents for submission of their projects in the required form, and the chairman made clear that should a Member provide the necessary information in a timely manner, that their projects would be included for consideration. And the manager's amendment reflects the closure of that verbal agreement in allowing many Members to complete the necessary documentation, therefore enabling the committee to include their projects of interest in the final mark before the House this evening. That is a model of how appropriate legislative consideration should be engaged, and I want to express appreciation to him.

I can verify for him if there is ever any question that there are a large number of Members who have a very deep and abiding interest in this subject matter, I have a list. And they also are appreciative of the willingness to give opportunity for appropriate consideration.

The manager's amendment is extraordinarily important in that it touches about a hundred projects which otherwise would not be included. I certainly hope that those present will support the adoption of the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, at this time, I would yield such time as the gentleman may consume to my ranking member, Mr. Mica.

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Mr. BAKER. I thank the gentleman for his remarks, and I certainly would be remiss if I did not comment on his effort to provide for transparency and disclosure of Members' requests. It was a new process. We had a lot of new paperwork to engage in. But at the end of the day, I think the public interest is well served and every Member is well served by having such disclosure made in a timely manner; and for his leadership in providing that counsel, I am most appreciative.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, I am certainly appreciative of the gentleman's interest and have worked with him closely on a number of matters through the course of the years. And just in this instance we have a matter of policy difference.

The P&G planning process utilized by the Corps does not begin with an idea that something must be done. It is not a process through which a commercial activity will automatically or inordinately be concluded must be implemented. The plan that is proposed must seek certain levels of justification; that is an iterative process where various parties are heard from over time.

As to the element of whether the P&G has been modified or not, I have done some work on the matter over the last days, knowing of the gentleman's interest in this amendment. And I can go back further over time, but on September 30 of 1999, the Corps issued Engineering Regulation 1165-2-501, which speaks directly to the gentleman's interest to encourage to the maximum extent practicable the restoration of aquatic ecosystems.

From the gentleman's amendment, the 1999 issuance speaks directly to a nonmonetary output compatible with P&G selection criteria; meaning, we should look at things broader than just dollars and cents.

On April 22, 2000, regulation 1105-2-200 recognized the national ecosystem restoration plan on a par with national economic development.

March 26, 2002, chief of engineers issues the environmental operating principles affirming sustainable development.

May 1, 2003: to provide for procedural guidance for formulating and evaluating projects consistent with environmental sustainability.

There was another on May 5, 2005. But to ensure the gentleman has time for his question, I will wrap up by saying, I have been assured by the Corps that they are working as diligently as one can work to accommodate environmental sensitivities while at the same time assuring that projects move forward in a timely manner.

The reason for my concern, as the gentleman knows, I am highly sensitized to our recovery from the Katrina-Rita days, and I know the gentleman's amendment is worded in such a fashion that, if it is authorized prior to the adoption of this language, it has no effect. But going forward, we are going to be doing this stuff for a very long time in our State.

The unintended consequences of these additional standards are going to be costly to local sponsors, and they are going to require significant additional programmatic time to achieve, not to ignore the gentleman's concerns that ecosystem restoration is a valuable and salutary goal that we should pursue.

I am happy to yield to the gentleman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BAKER. Yes. We may have a dispute as to the meaning of the words that we have on the page, but I will be happy to provide the gentleman.

May 5, 2005: planning in a collaborative environment to build on modernized guidance, improve Corps projects through greater collaboration with all stakeholders. I am skipping a little bit here. Broaden project selection criteria to encompass net beneficial effects in all four P&G accounts; national economic development, regional development, economic development, environmental quality, and other social effects.

So it goes beyond even environmental aspects in their planning process.

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Mr. BAKER. All I can speak to from my knowledge is Corps-issued Engineering Circular 1105-2-409 on May 5, 2005.

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Mr. BAKER. The distinction between a statutory adoption and a circular being issued is managerial direction to people who are implementing the programmatic requirements. It may be a difference of no distinction to the gentleman; but my opinion is, after spending some time with the Corps individuals, they feel they are on top of and are trying as best they can within financial constraints to achieve the goals the gentleman is prescribing. My worry is this will now transfer a financial liability to the local sponsor which does not now exist and may well, because of the times outlined in the gentleman's amendment, protract the timely construction of worthwhile projects.

I, for example, am not sure whether this applies to aids to navigation. I don't know. I am not suggesting it does, but the way the amendment is constructed, I am worried about scope and reach. And please understand, I want to be helpful to the gentleman's interest. I am not at all averse to constructing projects in an environmentally safe and sound manner. I am just not sure that the goals the gentleman seeks are the results we would get out of the adoption of the amendment.

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Mr. BAKER. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I just wanted to express a word of appreciation to the gentleman for revision of his amendment as it now appears before Members. He worked diligently with the staff in order to assure that some concerns that had been raised had been alleviated, and we find ourselves at a point where we have an amendment to which I do not believe there is objection.

At some point later in the evening I assume we will agree to adopt it and then later we will take up the underlying bill and pass that as well.

I assume that the gentleman has sufficiently consumed enough time to where the managerial matters of his earlier interests may have now been resolved, I hope.

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Mr. BAKER. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

As I understand the amendment, it is to require a study, an inventory, and an assessment of our hydroelectric capacity that is under the Secretary's jurisdiction, further to examine the advisability of perhaps private ownership of those facilities for the public interest, or whether we should enhance the government-owned and -operated facilities.

So it is an examination of our energy resources to determine how we should best go forward, and the Congress does not require today the expenditure of any new money for such purpose other than that to accomplish the study.

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Mr. BAKER. I thank the gentleman. With that understanding, I would just express support for the gentleman.

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