OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR JAMES M. INHOFE
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
HEARING ON WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT (WRDA)
JUNE 23, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Thank you for holding this important hearing today. I would also like to thank the Ranking Member, Senator Baucus and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Senator Warner for their leadership on this issue.

I want to start by stating that I have always had a good working relationship with the Corps of Engineers. As a Member of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation Committee (now the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure) and now as a member of this committee. I have had many occasions to work with the Corps and have been generally pleased with their actions.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1998 gives us an important opportunity to assist our communities with flood control and river and harbor protection projects. I have always supported the prudent expenditure of funds on infrastructure projects and will continue to do so in this bill.

There are, however, some areas of this language that cause me some serious concern. After reading the bill, I noticed that a couple sections deal with wetlands. Section 17 of this bill would authorize a new tax on commercial permit applicants to help the Corps cover the cost of preparing the Environmental Impact Statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the cost of delineation of wetlands for major development affecting wetlands. This section changes current policy by eliminating the fee charged to private individuals and shifts the fee completely to commercial applications. I question why anyone should pay a tax for the pleasure of going through the wetlands permitting process.

Section 4, which the Corps also calls "Challenge 21", will authorize a new Corps program that will seek non-structural approaches to preventing or reducing flood damages, which will include wetland restoration. To construct these projects, Congress will authorize $325 million over six years and establish a $75 million per-project cap. My concern with section is that congress waives its ability to approve of the individual projects. We set two reporting requirements; that the Secretary must notify the appropriate committees and he must wait for 21 calender days before proceeding with a project. In my opinion, we are giving up too much of our oversight authority.

My concern all along has been that we have wetlands policy spread out over too many jurisdictions covering too many functions. These examples highlight a fractioned wetland policy in which we address certain problems in one area with one approach and other problems in other areas with a different approach. I would like to see all wetland initiatives in a comprehensive bill so that we are very clear in our policy regarding wetlands. As most of you know, I am planning to introduce a comprehensive wetlands bill this summer. It is my sincere desire that the Corps will work with me on that to create a meaningful piece of legislation that all members on this committee can support.

On a final note, it is my understanding that the Corps will be providing my staff with draft data regarding a request that I made a year ago. I requested that the Corps calculate the average time from the initial application for a wetlands permit until the Corps deems the application packet complete. I will be anxiously awaiting the results of that study.

Thank you for the time Mr. Chairman. I look forward to working with you to draft a meaningful WRDA bill.