Today, Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Tom Daschle (D-SD) are introducing important new legislation to protect the environment from ill-conceived and destructive Corps of Engineers water projects. The bill also includes major fiscal reforms that will safeguard taxpayers’ investments in the Corps’ civil works program.
“The ‘Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2004’ contains much needed reforms to the way the Corps of Engineers plans and builds water projects around the country,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “Study after study after study has amply demonstrated that the common-sense measures contained in the Feingold-McCain-Daschle bill are urgently needed to protect our nation’s water resources and ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent frugally and wisely.”
In recent years, two National Academy of Sciences panels and the Army Inspector General have concluded that the Corps has an institutional bias for approving large and environmentally damaging navigation, flood control and other types of water resources projects, and that its project planning process lacks adequate environmental safeguards. Unfortunately, the Corps has a long track record of spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to pursue projects that destroy our nation’s water resources.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to take up a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) later this month. This biennial legislation authorizes Corps of Engineers civil works projects. According to Earthjustice, the WRDA bill should not pass until the Corps reforms in the Feingold-McCain-Daschle are adopted. Last year, the House passed a WRDA bill that requires peer review of costly and controversial Corps projects, but the provision lacks the independence needed to assure accountability and reliability in the project planning process.
“The independent review provision in the Feingold-McCain-Daschle bill is far superior to the House-passed measure,” said Mulhern. “We hope that the Senate will adopt it and the other reforms contained in the bill being introduced by these Senators today.”
In addition to the independent review provision, the Feingold-McCain-Daschle bill:
- Ensures that the Corps will fully mitigate the environmental damage caused by water resources projects in a timely manner
- Updates the Corps’ outdated planning guidelines to account for current environmental laws and policies and modern economics
- Requires that Corps projects produce real economic returns and environmental benefits to the American people
- Reduces the Corps’ $58 billion construction backlog
“Corps civil works projects have been responsible for damaging many of the nation’s most important rivers and other waters, destroying wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat, and reducing recreational opportunities,” said Mulhern. “These abuses must be stopped. The introduction of this legislation today shows that Senators Feingold, McCain and Daschle recognize that it is high time to address these problems and restore some integrity to the Corps’ civil works program. We hope that a majority of their colleagues in the Senate will agree with their approach for addressing these long-standing problems.”