Statement of Senator Russell D. Feingold
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
Hearing on Corps of Engineers= Water Programs
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Mr. Chairman, I am delighted to appear before the Environment and Public Works Committee today. I thank the Chairman for honoring the commitment to a hearing on the Corps= Water Program and the need for reform of the Corps made to me by the former Ranking Member, Senator Baucus, and Senator Smith during floor debate over the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. I am very pleased to be working with Senators Smith and McCain on this issue, and admire their dedication to fiscal responsibility as a driving force in their desire for Corps Reform.
Corps Reform is a work in progress. Reforming the Corps of Engineers will be a difficult task for Congress. It involves restoring credibility and accountability to a federal agency rocked by scandals, struggling to reform itself over the last year, and constrained by endlessly growing authorizations and a gloomy federal fiscal picture. But, this is an agency that Wisconsin, and many other states across the country, have come to rely upon. From the Great Lakes to the mighty Mississippi, the Corps is involved in providing aids to navigation, environmental remediation, water control and a variety of other services to my state. My office has strong working relationships with the Detroit, Rock Island, and St. Paul District Offices that service Wisconsin, and, let me be very clear Mr. Chairman, I want the fiscal and management cloud over the Corps to dissipate so that the Corps can continue to contribute to our environment and our economy.
The two reform bills now before the Committee grew from my experience in two legislative efforts. First, as the Committee knows, I sought to offer an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 to create independent review of Army Corps of Engineers= projects. In response to my initiative, the bill=s managers adopted an amendment as part of their Manager=s Package that should help get this Committee the additional information it needs to develop and refine legislation on this issue through a study on peer review by the National Academy of Sciences.
Second, I also learned of the need for additional technical input into Corps projects through my efforts working with Senator Bond on the reauthorization of the Environmental Management Program in the Upper Mississippi, which was the only permanent authorization in WRDA 99. Included in the final EMP provisions is a requirement that the Corps create an independent technical advisory committee to review EMP projects, monitoring plans, and habitat and natural resource needs assessments. I have been deeply concerned that this provision has not been fully implemented by the Corps, and I feel that as this Committee has been historically concerned about the need to secure outside technical advice in Corps= habitat restoration programs, like the EMP, it should also be concerned about getting similar input for other Corps construction activities.
Earlier this Congress, I introduced the Corps of Engineers Reform Act of 2001 (S. 646). This year, I joined with Senators Smith and McCain in introducing the Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002, S. 1987. S. 1987 includes many provisions that were included in my original bill, and codifies the idea of independent review of the Corps about which Senator Smith and I agreed in the 2000 Water Resources bill. It also provides a mechanism to speed up completion of construction for good Corps projects with large public benefits by deauthorizing low priority and economically wasteful projects. Further, it streamlines the existing WRDA 86 deauthorization process. Under S. 1987, a project authorized for construction, but never started, is deauthorized if it is denied appropriations funds towards completion of construction for five straight years. In addition, a project that has begun construction but denied appropriations funds towards completion for three straight years is also deauthorized.
The bill also preserves Congressional prerogatives over setting the Corps= construction priorities by allowing Congress a chance to reauthorize any of these projects before they are automatically deauthorized. This process will be transparent to all interests, because the bill requires the Corps to make an annual list of projects in the construction backlog available to Congress and the public at large via the Internet. The bill also allows a point of order to be raised in the Senate against projects included in legislation for which the Corps has not completed necessary studies determining that a project is economically justified and in the federal interest.
It is a comprehensive revision of the project review and authorization procedures at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our joint goal is to cause the Corps to increase transparency and accountability, to ensure fiscal responsibility, and to allow greater stakeholder involvement in their projects. We are committed to that goal, and to seeing Corps Reform enacted as part of this year=s Water Resources bill.
I would hope, Mr. Chairman, that as the Committee examines the issue of Corps Reform, it also reviews my original bill, S.646, which is sponsored in the House of Representatives by my colleague from Wisconsin, Representative Kind. S. 646 includes a number of important concepts that are central to environmental protection and that should be part of Corps Reform.
The Corps is required to mitigate the environmental impacts of its projects in a variety of ways, including by avoiding damaging wetlands in the first place and either holding other lands or constructing wetlands elsewhere when it cannot avoid destroying them. The Corps requires private developers to meet this standard when they construct projects as a condition of receiving a federal permit, and I think the federal government should live up to the same standards. Too often, and others on the second panel can testify to this in greater detail, the Corps does not complete required mitigation and enhances environmental risks. I feel very strongly that mitigation must be completed, that the true costs of mitigation should be accounted for in Corps projects, and that the public should be able to track the progress of mitigation projects. In addition, the concurrent mitigation requirements of S. 646 would actually reduce the total mitigation costs by ensuring the purchase of mitigation lands as soon as possible.
Mr. President, I feel that we need legislation to ensure a reformed Corps of Engineers. The Corps= recently-released lists of projects that it intends to review have been confusing and the review criteria remain unclear. We need a clearly-articulated framework to catch mistakes by Corps planners, deter any potential bad behavior by Corps officials to justify questionable projects, end old unjustified projects, and provide planners desperately needed support against the never ending pressure of project boosters. Those boosters, Mr. Chairman, include Congressional interests, which is why I believe that this Committee, which has sought so hard to stick to its criteria in project authorization and has done a better job in holding the line in Conference, needs to champion reform - to end the perception that Corps projects are all pork and no substance.
I wish it were the case, Mr. Chairman, and I know that Senators Smith and McCain share my view, that I could argue that the changes we are proposing today were not needed, but unfortunately, I see that there is need for Corps Reform legislation. I want to make sure that future Corps projects no longer fail to produce predicted benefits, stop costing the taxpayers more than the Corps estimated, do not have unanticipated environmental impacts, and are built in an environmentally compatible way. This Committee should seek to ensure that the Corps does a better job, which is what the taxpayers and the environment deserve. I thank you for this opportunity to share my views with you today.