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Public Statements

Authorizing Funds for Emergency Relief Projects

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in support of H.R. 3174. This legislation would lift the cap on the Federal Highway Administration emergency relief program funds that occur in 2013.

Earlier this month, Colorado experienced historic storms that resulted in severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides. As a result of these severe storms, more than 50 bridges have been damaged or destroyed and over 200 miles of roads in Colorado have been affected by the flooding.

Initial estimates by the Colorado Department of Transportation are that damage to roads and bridges as a result of the storm could cost between $430 million and $475 million.

To assist States in dealing with unexpected destruction of surface transportation infrastructure because of natural disasters or catastrophic failure caused by an external event, Congress created FHWA's emergency relief program. This program provides funding to States to make emergency repairs and restore Federal-aid highway facilities to pre-disaster conditions.

While the ER program receives $100 million annually from the highway trust fund, demand for funding from this program usually exceeds this amount and requires supplemental appropriations from general revenues to address the backlog of funding requests from States.

Earlier this year, Congress appropriated $2 billion for the ER program in the Hurricane Sandy relief legislation. This $2 billion appropriation was intended to address rebuilding highways in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as well as other natural disasters across the Nation.

Mr. Speaker, I would note that the House had a vigorous debate about Hurricane Sandy during that relief bill's consideration, with many of my friends on the other side of the aisle actually opposing the bill, including the sponsor of the legislation we are debating today. Thankfully, a majority of the House stood with our colleagues from States that suffered the incredible destruction as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

I would urge that we stand with our colleagues from Colorado today with the hope that prior opponents of such relief will see how important it is when it affects their own home State to understand that we are all in this together in this country when it comes to natural and catastrophic disasters.

Of the $2 billion provided by that legislation for highway ER projects as a result of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters, approximately $550 million remains available.

In addition to providing additional funding for the ER program, the legislation also restricted the amount that a State could receive of these funds to no more than $100 million per incident, with a separate cap provided for highway repair funds for States affected by Hurricane Sandy.

To address the concern that Colorado could not be fully reimbursed for the
cost of restoring its infrastructure, which could cost more than $400 million, in a timely manner, H.R. 3174 eliminates the $100 million cap on ER funds made available in the Hurricane Sandy Relief Act for all disasters that occur in 2013.
This bill is consistent with changes to the ER program made in the most recent Surface Transportation Authorization Act, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, which also eliminated the historical $100 million cap.

Mr. Speaker, no State can plan for the type of destruction Colorado is dealing with as a result of the severe storms and flooding. That is why the ER program was created. That is why this House passed the Hurricane Sandy Relief Act and made additional highway repair funds available to all States that have suffered such natural disasters.

Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 3174. Let us ensure that Colorado has the support and resources that it needs to rebuild its surface transportation infrastructure.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, this House should be proud to stand with Colorado. Anyone who saw the State seeming to be washed away and floods the likes of which I've never seen in my life would have her heart go out to the residents of the State.

Mr. Speaker, also I know that last week there was a United Nations report that found that, when they surveyed scientists from throughout the world, there was a 95 percent agreement, a 95 percent certainty that climate change is having its effects right now. That is a very high percentage for scientists to give to any issue. We know that a combination of factors produced these thousand-year floods, whatever you want to attach to them, in Colorado. But they certainly were aided and abetted by climate changes.

This House needs to take climate change seriously. As difficult as it is, we're going to see more and more catastrophes like this and, as usual, they will be in places we never expected them. In places where there are not tornados, we will see tornados. In places where there have not been floods, that is what we have seen in just the last few years.

So I certainly am pleased, and I'm sure every Member of this House will be pleased, to stand with the residents of Colorado as they try to recover from this flood which has devastated so many of their citizens.

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

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