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House Subcommittee on the Environment Addresses Environmental Concerns from the 2017 Hurricane Season

The Subcommittee on the Environment will hold a hearing today entitled “Response and Recovery to Environmental Concerns from the 2017 Hurricane Season”. The hearing will examine the Federal, State, local, and private responses to the recovery efforts concerning the recent hurricanes in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.

The witness panel includes:

  • Peter Lopez, Regional Administrator, Region 2, Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Trey Glenn, Regional Administrator, Region 4, Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Sam Coleman, Acting Regional Administrator, Region 6, Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Bryan Shaw, Chairman, Texas Department of Environmental Quality;
  • Mark Lichtenstein, Chief of Staff and Chief Sustainability Officer, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry;
  • Lyvia N. Rodríguez Del Valle, Executive Director, Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña;
  • Trent Epperson, Assistant City Manager, City of Pearland, TX;
  • Garett Thomas Sansom, DrPH, MPH, Associate Director, Institute for Sustainable Communities, Texas A&M University; and
  • Mike Howe, Executive Director, Texas Section of American Water Works Association on behalf of the American Water Works Association.

The hearing will examine the following issues:

  • What is the status of the environmental recovery efforts from that damage for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria?
  • How has EPA performed within the structure of the National Response Framework (i.e. has the Framework provided the flexibility and funding to address the concerns found)?
  • Has EPA’s response and recovery effort been hindered by statutory authority. If so, which ones?

Sam Coleman wrote in his prepared statement: “As we have seen in just the past few months, every natural disaster presents unique challenges. Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi Texas as a category 4 hurricane, then lingered over the Texas gulf coast dropping more than 50 inches of rain in Harris County, according to the National Weather Service, and affected over 7 million people. EPA worked with Texas and local officials to assess more than 2,200 drinking water systems and more than 1,700 waste water systems; retrieved over 950 loose containers and, according to FEMA, safely disposed of over 20 million cubic yards of debris. At one point, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had approximately 500 people and EPA had over 250 people assisting in response to this natural disaster.”

Trent Epperson wrote in his prepared statement: “The City of Pearland, although challenged, fared relatively well thorough Hurricane Harvey and will recover stronger than we were before the disaster. As we re-build, we look to ensure that our critical infrastructure is able to withstand flooding, high winds, and other potential disasters. To do this we must have adequate recovery and mitigation funding available so that we do not just rebuild our critical infrastructure to its original state but we rebuild resilient, redundant infrastructure ready for the next disaster”

Trey Glenn wrote in his prepared statement: “Moving forward, we continue to meet mission assignments under the response phase and have initiated our recovery activities with FEMA and other federal partners under the National Disaster Recovery Framework. Under the Framework, EPA supports federal partners primarily on community planning and capacity building, infrastructure systems and recovery, and natural and cultural resources which translate into smart growth practices, mitigation, community resilience, and disaster planning.”

Mike Howe wrote in his prepared statement: “We urge Congress, with its oversight jurisdiction and responsibilities, to direct FEMA to reconsider how the National Response Framework is used to support disaster response and recovery in the water sector. This will be vital to protecting public and environmental health in the communities we serve in future disasters.”

Mark Lichtenstein wrote in his prepared statement: “Climate is impacted by excessive carbon released into the atmosphere. ACIs release carbon dioxide and other climate impacting constituents into the atmosphere. Efforts should be made to reduce these inputs where other viable options exist, like mulching and composting.”

Peter Lopez wrote in his prepared statement: “EPA continues to actively and thoughtfully respond to the devastation of Maria and Irma. As required, we will participate in the Federal government’s after-action report and include a detailed description of strategies for more effectively responding to future storm events. One critical lesson learned so far is that there are unique challenges for both emergency response and future hazard mitigation on the Caribbean islands. For example, there were not enough generators available on the islands to provide back-up electrical power needed for essential services such as drinking water, hospitals, labs, and wastewater collection and treatment. In Puerto Rico, this resulted in much of the population losing access to safe drinking water, widespread sewer overflows that contaminated surface waters and posed risks to the health of people who were drinking from or bathing in surface waters i.e., streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.”

Lyvia N. Rodríguez Del Valle wrote in his prepared statement: “There is a comprehensive development plan, policy and an institutional framework, as well as a feasibility report and an NEPA compliant environmental impact statement for the ecosystem restoration piece, elaborated under the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. ENLACE, a government corporation that is the non-Federal sponsor, was the author of this report, adopted by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The US Army Corps of Engineers works on the design. The ecosystem restoration project is ready to move into construction. Other components of the ENLACE Project are shovel ready. ENLACE has leveraged over $100 million and other resources from local, state, and to a lesser extent, the federal government, local and US foundations, and private partners towards implementing the comprehensive development plan. At a time of severe political, economic, fiscal, and financial challenges, Puerto Rico’s capacity to further invest in the ENLACE Project is extremely limited. Support from the US federal government is crucial. Congress is urged to pursue the inclusion of this project and all of its components in any upcoming disaster recovery bill for Puerto Rico.”

Bryan Shaw wrote in his prepared statement: “The TCEQ continues to be involved in multiple response efforts, including efforts related to debris management, air quality monitoring, drinking water, wastewater and sewage, Superfund sites, hazmat operations, critical water infrastructure, flood water, and fuel waivers.”

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