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Earl B.
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  • Mississippi River Levee

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2013-02-12

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    BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, one of the few areas where Washington agrees with the general public is that our current path is not sustainable. It is not merely a case of spending too much or taxing too little, although we need to control spending and we must and will be raising revenue to meet the needs of an aging and growing population.

    The key is to do business differently, to extract more value out of our programs. We need to have the courage to pivot, to do things better, to not follow the reflex of the usual economic and political groups fighting to continue to protect the status quo and the continuing trend lines.

    In a world already impacted by climate change and global weather instability, these forces are going to intensify. One of the best examples of why we must change is how we deal with reengineering nature as a response to natural disasters.

    I salute Governor Cuomo for the use of some of the Hurricane Sandy money from the Federal Government to move people out of harm's way, not just throw good money after bad by relocating and rebuilding in exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, where nature repeatedly shows that people are not wanted.

    I was before the Rules Committee arguing for greater reform in the Federal spending, but the Governor is pointing in the right direction.

    This week we are watching another chapter in the same drama play out in the lower Mississippi, where there is an argument to continue the self-defeating effort to fortify the Mississippi River, closing a gap in the levee, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent an area in the flood plain from flooding every now and then.

    The Federal Government has already made periodic flooding in that area as part of its relief valve, to take the excess water and avoid more flooding [[Page H434]] elsewhere. Failing to allow nature to take its course invites a bigger disaster as more and more water is forced into the narrow fortified walls of the Mississippi.

    Think about how we have shortened and narrowed that river. We haven't reduced the amount of water; we've just reduced the areas where it can go. It makes the inevitable flooding worse. Building a levee is simply going to move it a little further downstream.

    The solution is to allow the river to go where nature wants it, not encourage farmers to cultivate even more land that will be vulnerable to crop loss, more disaster relief, more crop insurance loss, and to take away increasingly scarce wildlife habitat for the millions of Americans who would like to hunt and fish. Done right, this can be a virtuous cycle. It saves tax dollars, improves the environment, reduces the damage from flooding and all the attendant costs.

    It is a classic example of where the Federal Government should learn from 200 years' experience of trying to engineer the Mississippi River and instead allow, in some cases, nature to take its course and avoid more expensive and worse damage.

    This is what we need to do across the Federal Government. We don't have to spend twice as much money on health care as most of the developed countries for outcomes that are mediocre at best. We don't have to spend more money on defense than 12 or 13 of the remaining largest defense budgets and on weapons that in many cases, like our nuclear arsenal where we have far more than we need and can ever use and can afford, we can pare down, save tens of billions of dollars and still be the most powerful Nation in the world; or the outrageous crop insurance that encourages reckless and expensive behavior by paying farmers to plant crops on land that never should have been cultivated in the first place.

    {time} 1210 While we will control spending and increase revenues, the most important thing we can do is to change the way we do business, using common sense, proven technology, stretching our tax dollars, and making our communities more livable. We can start by not pressuring the Corps of Engineers to complete the levees, spending millions of dollars we don't have on a solution that will make the problem worse. Let's work, instead, to understand the impacts of global warming and extreme weather and then do something about it.


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