Aside from my work in Congress on general issues that affect the 29th District of Texas, there are also specific issues that I have the privilege of working on that impact our community.
I have always been a strong supporter of our national space program and recognize the importance of NASA to our country, our economy, and our ability to continue to lead the world in space exploration and technology research and development. The Johnson Space Center is a premier NASA installation and a cherished institution in the Houston region.
Since its creation, NASA has been a leading driver of innovation, intellectual advancement, and economic growth. Maintaining our commitment to American-led space exploration is vital to our regional and national economy, and means our country will continue to be a pioneer in space flight, science, and technology.
We should be working toward expanding our space flight capabilities to go beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within the next few years. In Congress, I have continuously supported this effort and fought against attempts to move substantial funding from the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System (SLS) programs to fund commercially led space programs. MPCV and SLS are critical to exploring beyond LEO and to maintaining America's role as the world leader in manned space flight.
On January 14, 2013, President Obama signed into law H.R. 6586, the Space Exploration Sustainability Act (P.L. 112-273). This law expresses the sense of Congress that NASA proceed with the use of the International Space Station, technology development, and follow-on transportation systems including the SLS and the MPCV and commercial crew cargo transportation capabilities. The Act also requires that NASA not take money from SLS and MPCV programs to fund commercial crew programs, or vice versa. This provision was included in order to ensure a balance of development and use of these capabilities between public and private enterprises, as they are of critical importance to the viability and success of the U.S. space program. The Space Exploration Sustainability Act reaffirms Congress' commitment to a robust NASA.
In recent years the U.S. has had to rely on Russian spaceflights for our astronauts to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Rep. Green led the effort to send a letter, along with Reps. Ruppersberger, Wolf, and Culberson and 58 other Members of the House, to the President emphasizing the importance of manned space exploration both to our scientific achievement and advancement and to our economy. In this letter, Rep. Green suggested a compromise that consisted of immediate development and production of a heavy-lift vehicle in conjunction with the development of Orion as a manned space exploration capsule.
These two projects are based on Constellation, the program that the Administration suggested elimination of in the budget request. This was the framework of the plan eventually enacted into law. Manned space flight programs are even more important today due to the colder relations with Russia. Our space program should not be reliant on a geo-political foe.
For decades, NASA has been successful in their missions and in turning their innovations into products that can be used by the general public to improve efficiency and enhance our standard of living. It is difficult to overstate the importance of a robust NASA program, and I will continue to advocate for this great American institution.
I am a strong supporter of building out Houston METRO’s light rail network. In recent years, I worked to secure federal funding that is critical to the construction of both the North and Southeast light rail lines. This system will reduce congestion on our roads and spur economic development along these corridors. Light rail is also a boost to communities around the rail lines because of the convenience of this mode of transportation. Light Rail funding should not be in place of other transportation funding, but it is an important part of a multi-faceted transportation strategy that is necessary for Houston to be adequately prepared for the future.
In December 2002, Congress passed a bill led by our office, the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area Study Act. The bill required the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of establishing the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area along the ship channel in Houston, Texas. A National Heritage Area is a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. These patterns make National Heritage Areas representative of the national experience through the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved in them.
On April 21, 2010, the National Park Service (NPS) released the 135-page report assessing the area. The study found that the proposed Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area in Texas is eligible for National Heritage Area designation and the heritage area status would enhance as well as promote the national significance of this historic waterway. The study can be found at our local libraries, our website, or on the National Park Service website: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkId=73&projectId=16830&documentID=33323
With the release of the NPS study, the final step is for Congress to pass a bill officially designation this area as a National Heritage Area. As such, I have introduced the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area Act that would do just that.
Houston’s geographic location makes substantial rain events, like hurricanes, an all too common occurrence. Many of our areas are flood prone, which puts lives and economic security at risk. In May 2015, Houston faced some of the most devastating flooding we’ve seen in years. Fortunately, some of the damage was mitigated thanks to our decades of work on our bayou system.
I support a well-funded Army Corps of Engineers, which is tasked with providing federal leadership for flood control projects in our area. Our local Harris County Flood Control District does a spectacular job at utilizing local, state, and federal funds to keep us safe from flood waters. Since areas of Houston are likely to flood, it is important that we receive more funding for these important projects in the years ahead.
The Fiscal Year 2016 Energy and Water Development budget included approximately $50 million in federal support for Buffalo and Greens Bayou. Additionally, Hunting Bayou has signed a Project Partnership Agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which provides local cost-share reimbursement. The Hunting Bayou project will cost approximately $156 million and includes a widening and deepening of the channel, construction of storm water detention and bridge replacement and modification. The result will be a reduction of water levels by three-to-four feet during significant flood events. Houston is subject to regular flooding and the bayou system has been a tremendously effective so I will continue to fight for federal support of our system. Learn more about the Harris County Flood Control District and projects in our area at www.hcfcd.org.
U.S. Postal Service Office Closings
The United States Postal Service (USPS)
is currently facing critical financial difficulties. The Postal Service's financial problems are due to revenue losses stemming from decline in first class mail volume and, most predominately, a 2006 law passed by Congress that forces the Postal Service to prefund 75 years’ worth of anticipated retirement pensions and health care costs for its employees. This provision alone costs the USPS $5.5 billion a year and is responsible for four out of every five dollars of the agency's debt. The USPS is also the only federal agency that is required to prefund which has placed an undue financial burden on the men and women who deliver our mail.
I have long been a supporter of the USPS and believe a strong and vibrant postal service is essential to our economy and the fabric of our country. While changes need to be made as the Postal Service adjusts to an increasingly digital world, I believe that commonsense solutions can be enacted that will strengthen the Postal Service, rather than undermine the agency.
I do not support the elimination of Saturday mail delivery. This misguided approach to get the USPS back on solid financial footing would damage the USPS's competitiveness, kicking off a downward spiral of further mail volume reductions that will inevitably lead to devastating losses in revenue, post office closures and layoffs, and a reduction of services millions of Americans rely upon. I have signed onto multiple letters and co-sponsored bills to ensure that Saturday mail remains a priority service in our district.
Congress must enact postal reform that modernizes the USPS, prevents proposed cuts to Saturday and door-to-door delivery, and repeals the crippling pre-funding law responsible for 80 percent of the Postal Service’s financial problems. I support changes that will allow the Postal Service to look for innovative new ways to raise revenues, such as lifting legal bans on services like notarizing documents and issuing hunting and fishing licenses.
Despite fierce objection from myself and the community, in April 2013, the USPS closed the Irvington Post Office at 7825 Fulton Street, forcing residents of the Northline area to travel farther to access essential services. I remain deeply disappointed by this decision and have held community forums, written letters and given speeches urging the USPS to reconsider.
The planned closing of 82 mail processing facilities in January of 2015 will have dire effects on the post office work force, as well as mail delivery within the Houston area. An estimated 15,000 jobs will be lost across the country due to the planned closures and First Class overnight delivery in areas served by the facilities will be hampered. I have written multiple letters urging the USPS to reconsider this approach.
I will continue to advocate for a USPS presence in the area through the establishment of a new location or the setup of retail operations into the Northline Commons area as a compromise. I am strongly opposed to the closure of any other Post Offices in our district.
I understand the important role of the Postal Service and am committed to finding ways to restore its financial stability without sacrificing service. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to act to save our postal system.