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Water Resources Development Act of 2007

Location: Washington, DC

WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - May 14, 2007)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have a couple amendments I will be offering in a few minutes. I wanted to spend a moment or two talking about priorities.

The work on the WRDA bill has been very important. I am supportive of us keeping our obligations, especially in Louisiana for the tremendous problems they have encountered. There is a legitimate role for the Federal Government as a partner with the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas in terms of restoration and also prevention so that we don't see the same things again. The WRDA bill is an important bill for a lot of States on a lot of projects, many of which have come about because the Federal Government has overreached in some of its authority and demanded things of States they can no longer afford to do. That is where we sit today. That is the consequence sometimes of having a Federal Government that is a little bit bigger than what the Constitution envisioned and what our Forefathers envisioned as appropriate.

Let me talk about the process for a minute. The chairman asked me a moment ago if I was going to offer any other amendments other than amendments on this bill. I told her no, and I will not. But I think it is important for the American people to consider what we are doing here today. It is important work, but it certainly is not as important as funding our troops. We have asked American families and their children who are serving in the armed services to do a very difficult job. It is very controversial at this time. But regardless of where you are on that job, the fact that we continue to produce bills and not address their needs seems somewhat out of context for where we should be. It has been almost 60 days since the President asked for the additional funding. We have passed the COMPETES Act, spending money on the future, but we can't seem to pass the money for our troops in harm's way. We passed an FDA reauthorization with PDUFA for making sure drugs get cleared, but we can't seem to produce a consensus that our troops will be funded with the necessities they require since they are in harm's way. I find it ironic that we would do anything other than that.

When I look at the Constitution, our No. 1 priority is defense. Whether or not we agree with the foreign policy ongoing today, we all agree we don't want our troops to be in any way placed in harm's way because of our lack of action. That is a justified criticism today which may come true, that American troops are hampered because we cannot pass a bill. I won't offer that amendment, although I think that is what we should be discussing, rather than the WRDA bill.

I thank my colleagues, Senators Inhofe and Boxer, for their work on this bill. I know it means a lot to a lot of communities that don't have the resources to accomplish the things they need to. However, one of the things I am concerned about is priorities. Last year, we had a debate on the emergency status of funding the levees in Sacramento. I had offered an amendment. I talked with the Governor of California, with the two Senators from California. Ultimately, I withdrew that because I became convinced that, in fact, it was an emergency. It still is. Sacramento is the largest town in this country that is at major risk for a flood. The Corps of Engineers uses years for an event, and Sacramento sits at 85 years, the likelihood that 1 out of the next 85 years, Sacramento will be flooded, whereas New Orleans today, even post-Katrina, has a 1-in-250-year risk of being flooded again.

As we look at the WRDA bill, one of the things we ought to think about is how do we prioritize to make sure that where there is a legitimate Government role, we actually spend the money on that role. There is a lot of money in this bill. Granted, this is an authorization bill which will put forward a lot of new projects, some of which we know the cost and some we don't.

I remind my colleagues, right now we have enough work for the Corps of Engineers for the next 50 years, if we don't give them another job to do on their budget. In this bill, we are going to give them several more major projects and not the appropriate funding to do them. One of the reasons we will not give them the appropriate funding is because we don't have the money because, No. 1, we have $200 billion a year in waste, fraud, and duplication in the money we appropriate presently, which the Senate and the Congress refuse to look at, and No. 2, because of the limitations we have in terms of the magnitude of the jobs we put before the Corps.

If you look at priorities in terms of what is important, California has several projects in this, as do several other States. You ask: What are the priorities? You say: We as a family have so many things we have to do. Should we do the most important ones first? If families have a roof they need to put on the house, it is highly unlikely they will build a swimming pool. They are going to fix the roof first and then save for the swimming pool. We don't do that in terms of many of the priorities in this bill.

Myself and seven other Members voted against going ahead with this bill for two reasons. No. 1 is the intent, although the details were not followed in terms of the new earmark proposals in the bill. No. 2 is that we think the priorities are out of whack.

I do have a couple of amendments I will offer.


I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and amendment 1089 be called up.


The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 1089 to amendment No. 1065

Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To prioritize Federal spending to ensure the needs of Louisiana residents who lost their homes as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are met before spending money to design or construct a nonessential visitors center)

On page 209, line 1, strike ``The'' and insert ``Subject to paragraph (5), the''.

On page 210, between lines 21 and 22, insert the following:

(5) REQUIREMENT.--No Federal funds shall be used to conduct any study, or to carry out any activity relating to the design or construction, of the visitors center under this subsection until the date on which the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and the State of Louisiana, certifies to Congress that all residents of the State of Louisiana who were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina or Rita in 2005 are no longer living in temporary housing.

Mr. COBURN. This is a simple amendment. It says that there are 100,000 people from Louisiana today in temporary housing. We have failed to move them from temporary housing into other housing.

There are, in this bill, plans and studies for a new visitor center to be set up in Morgan City, which will be a great thing for the area of Louisiana. I do not doubt that. The purpose of this amendment is to say we should not spend any money on that until we get the people affected by Katrina back into housing instead of temporary housing.

So it is not necessarily a criticism, although I generally have criticisms of the Federal Government's role in providing visitor centers for tourism, et cetera, in the States. More importantly, it is about priorities, of whether we ought to take care of those people who have been markedly impaired in their housing opportunities, which ultimately affects their ability to earn a living in Louisiana, before we build another visitor center, before we spend any money on it. We attempted to try to find out how much this visitor center would cost, and nobody could tell us. But the point is, we probably should not spend a penny on that until we have taken care of the people in Louisiana.

If you look at the stories that continue to come out--and Senator Landrieu has been a champion in this body of making sure the rest of the Members of this body are aware of the continuing needs of Louisiana for housing--we should not spend any money on anything other than those critical needs for the people of Louisiana. When those are met, then we go and build a visitor center. We do not do it at the same time. To do it at the same time says there is no limit on the amount of funds we have, and we know there are. So we should not put this forward.

This amendment does not take away the visitor center, it does not eliminate the visitor center; it just says you cannot spend any money on it until we have taken care of people in Louisiana and their housing. It is very simple, very straightforward, but puts a priority, much like you and I put a priority on what our needs are. One of our big failures in this body is picking priorities. If we had unlimited funds, we would not need to do that, but we do not have unlimited funds. Our true deficit was far in excess of $300 billion last year, although we claimed it was under $200 billion by Enron-style accounting. But, in fact, we added $300 billion to our children's and grandchildren's debt.

So this is just a little, small amendment that says we should not do this until we have taken care of the obligations that are in front of us in terms of people's lives. When we have done that, then go for it, go do it, but do not do it ahead of those people. When people cannot have services, cannot have what they need, who have been displaced by a natural disaster the likes of which we have never seen before in this country, we should not spend one penny on thing other than taking care of them. Once they are taken care of--a legitimate Federal role, to make sure the environment for housing has been created so Louisiana can get back on its feet--then we ought to do that. So we are not eliminating it. We are just saying, do not spend the money, there is no authorization until you have met and it has been certified that the housing needs of those who are in temporary housing today--trailers, tens and tens of thousands of people are still living in trailers, who still do not have access to housing--do not do that until you have met that need. It is very simple.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator for yielding.

I would like to make some comments. First of all, we do not take this out. We do not eliminate it. We just say there ought to be a priority on the funds, and the funds for housing ought to come ahead of this. No. 2 is, 3 years ago, a new visitor center was opened for this very purpose for the Atchafalaya Basin, which is the focus of the new visitor center. This just opened 3 years ago.

Again, in a quote from it: Smack dab in the center of the Atchafalaya Basin is a very welcoming site for those traveling on Interstate 10. The Atchafalaya Welcome Center is open seven days a week from 8:30 to 5. The center is located off Interstate 10 at exit 121. It is a first class facility, quite impressive, with historical information within the walls. It is an Acadian-style cottage museum. Outside, wildlife and nature will take you back in time.

It was completed in June 2004. It has many of the same things the Senator wants to support. There are also two other visitor centers in Morgan City, so it is not that there is not some process out there already to do that.

Again, the point is not to eliminate this visitor center. The point is to say, shouldn't we have a priority--before we allow money to go for another visitor center where there is already one that has just opened 3 years ago, shouldn't we have the people who need housing taken care of? So I will stand with that and will not continue the debate on that.


Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and call up amendment No. 1090.


The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 1090 to amendment No. 1065.

Mr. Coburn. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To prioritize Federal spending to ensure the residents of the city of Sacramento are protected from the threat of floods before spending money to add sand to beaches in San Diego)

On page 11, strike line 5 and insert the following:


(A) IN GENERAL.--Subject to subparagraph (B), the

On page 11, between lines 15 and 16, insert the following:

(B) REQUIREMENT.--No Federal funds shall be used for beach nourishment for Imperial Beach, California, until the date on which the Secretary certifies to Congress that the Sacramento River Bank Protection Project has been completed.

Mr. COBURN. This, again, is for the restoration of beaches. It is a 30- or 40-year project, which I do not object to on its face. I love beaches. I take my family to Florida. I noticed recently they restored beaches down there. Again, the question is priorities. We have a tough time setting priorities. We take authorizations bills, we don't look at them. What we do is we get them authorized and then we fight like heck when the appropriations time comes around to get our projects funded.

The Sacramento levee system, according to the Corps of Engineers, is one of the most important projects they have in terms of reducing risk for people at risk of flood. We had a debate on this floor less than a year ago with the Senators from California. I talked to the Governor of California. I had attempted to strip out some of the funding of an emergency bill for emergency funds for the Corps of Engineers for this basin and for these levees. They convinced me with their argument that was a high priority. I actually withdrew my amendment. I did not ask for a vote on it.

We have a WRDA bill that has this in it, and then we have a beach restoration project, over which there is some significant debate in terms of Imperial Beach in southern California, restoring that beach over the next 40 to 50 years, with intermittent projects every 4 to 5 years, pumping sand to restore the beach. I am not against that, either. But what I think we have to do is set a priority.

Why shouldn't the priority be that we protect the people of Sacramento and finish the levee system? The answer will be: We can do both. Well, we really cannot do both. We will do both probably, but we cannot do both. We cannot do both with the money we have. So then it comes to: Where are the priorities? We will have this debate again when the bills come forward in the appropriations process, of where the priority is. We will probably fund both these projects. But when the American taxpayers ask: Now, which one is most important, which one is a true Federal responsibility, which one is a State responsibility, they are going to want some answers. When asked about protecting a major city such as Sacramento with a levee system that the Corps of Engineers designed, which was substandard to begin with, and redoing that to make sure we protect all these people, or letting the State of California restore its own beaches from sand erosion, I believe the vast majority of Americans will say: As to the beach, probably the local community can afford to do that. They get the benefits off of it. They get the property taxes off of it. They get the tourism off of it. But Sacramento is a different story. It is something the Federal Government started. It is something the Federal Government is responsible for, and something the Federal Government should respond to and finish.

Senator Feinstein, in our debate last year, noted that the bottom line is that human life and property hangs in the balance based on the sustainability of these levees. I think that is right. I do not think human life stands in the balance on restoring the beaches, which is really a State responsibility.

What we are going to do in this bill is we are going to take taxpayer money. We are actually going to borrow the money to do it. We are not going to do it out of the regular budget. We are going to pay for something that is a State responsibility. The other factor that comes into it is that every State in the Union, save one, has a surplus this year.

We have a $300 billion deficit, if we are honest. So, again, it comes back: is it great if we have extra money, if we aren't borrowing the money for the future? Should we do this at the same time? I would agree.

The fact is, we don't want to make the hard choices. We don't want to tell anybody no, not now. What we want to do is be able to have both. We can satisfy people today, but the people who will be dissatisfied with the generational collar that we put around them will be our kids and grandkids as they repay the cost of out not prioritizing things, not looking at things that are most important, and otherwise not standing up to the line and doing what we should be doing, which is making the hard choices of priorities.

One of the things I think the American citizenry is upset with, as much as the war or more, is the fact that it seems as if we don't care about the future. We will throw money at anything, money we don't have.

So these two amendments I bring to the floor today are not big. They may not pass, but they are based on a principle. The principle is to be a good steward. We all, in our own personal lives, with our own money, have to make priorities. We have to put that roof on before we do something else to the house. We have to make a choice about where the first dollar should go. Unfortunately, sometimes we do a poor job of that in the Congress.

I believe, from the way this Senator sees it, securing the levees ought to be a much higher priority than restoring beach that can be restored by a local community or the State of California. It is not truly a Federal responsibility.

I have studied a great deal about the beach restoration project. They have a general plan. What has happened to them has been out of their control, the Tijuana River in terms of how it has been blockaded and dammed and the amount of sand that filters in and that is available for the beach. Several attempts at growing structures had been made in 1978. A plan was put forth that would have restored it. It did not meet the environmental impact statement. It was abandoned at that time.

What we know and what is predicted by those who have watched this--especially Orrin Pikley, the director of the program for the State Developmental Shorelines at Duke University--is that we shouldn't be nourishing the beaches. President Clinton, much to his credit, saw the need for the States to take a greater burden in financing beach nourishment, and he proposed eliminating all funding for nourishment projects and studies, and he reduced the Federal share to 35 percent on any projects that weren't ongoing.

Where is the responsibility? Who is going to pay for it? It is easy to spend your money. It is easy to not tell anybody no. But the fact is, when we get down to the long and the short of it, we can't do everything everybody wants to do. I know a lot of people were told no in this bill about things they want to do, but we do some of it, to be fair. But in the long run, lives, safety, and housing have to take precedence over convenience and recreation.

With that, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mrs. BOXER. Yes.

Mr. COBURN. Will the restoration project in this bill solve the problem of Imperial Beach?

Mrs. BOXER. This is considered a 50-year fix.

Mr. COBURN. It is a 50-year fix only if they continue to do the work every 5 years, correct?

Mrs. BOXER. Well, of course, all projects have to be maintained.

Mr. COBURN. According to the Corps, every 5 years we will pump the same amount of sand up there, and in 50 years we will be doing the same thing again. This isn't a long-term fix; this is a short-term fix, according to the Corps, not according to anybody else. They have to do the same thing every 5 years to maintain the status quo; is that correct?

Mrs. BOXER. No. The initial project consists of 1.214 million cubic meters of sand, resulting in a total beach with 32 meters beyond the existing beach line. That is the first phase. To get to your point, it is estimated that once every 10 years, over the 50-year life of the project, they would replenish, not every 5 years.

Mr. COBURN. Every 10 years, they are going to have to bring back the sand the ocean naturally washes away from the beach because we have not done what needs to be done, which is a long, extended growing, to help the beach replenish itself.

Mrs. BOXER. Let me say, we continue to maintain the dams in Oklahoma, too. So whether you are maintaining a dam or maintaining this kind of project, yes, you have to take care of your house, your home, your project. This isn't a free lunch for anybody. The local people have to pay for that as well.

So the reason the Corps recommended this particular project is they say it is very cost effective, it provides a lot of protection for these people, and it has a very high cost benefit. For every dollar put in, the American people get $1.70 in return, and few projects can claim such a return.

Mr. COBURN. I would not know how to argue with that. Would the Senator yield for a moment, and I will finish up?

Mrs. BOXER. Yes, I am delighted.

Mr. COBURN. The difference between this and a dam is a dam is put there to control water or generate power. They have to be maintained. The way to fix this, according to the people we have talked to, is the original Corps plan is to put the money into an extended growing until the beach redevelops and replenishes itself. We will continue to do this every 10 years. I am not saying that is not a good priority, but it is not a priority like many of the other things.

I have a letter that I received from Dr. Serge Dedina, executive director of WiLDCOAST, supporting our amendment and asking that this money be placed secondary to the efforts in Sacramento because their studies show one winter storm will wash away what this money was spent for. In fact, this isn't the best plan, although it is a plan and--again, if I was there, I would want this beach maintained and restored. But I understand the desire for it. I understand the priorities for it. I understand the decisions that have been made in terms of lessening priorities that weren't included in that bill.

I appreciate the time the chairman of the committee has given me to offer these amendments.

I ask unanimous consent that this letter be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


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