- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

President Bush has promised to meet or beat the Nov. 3 constitutional deadline for vetoing legislation authorizing $23 billion in new Army Corps of Engineers projects across the nation. However, the president should note that important projects are at risk and that he has other ways to trim fat from the bill without vetoing it as promised, especially since both houses of Congress passed it by veto-proof margins. Fiscal conservatives cheered the president’s promise to veto this legislation, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), but to serve the national interest, we must look for ways to build critical projects, while still avoiding pork barrel boondoggles.

Most of us will never forget the images of New Orleans under water, of thousands trapped at the festering Superdome, of waiting for the federal cavalry to arrive and being dumbfounded when they failed to appear for days.

Easier to forget has been the significant jump in gas prices when vital Gulf of Mexico oil fields and refineries went offline even though Katrina gave them only a glancing blow. Disruption at the Port of New Orleans also hurt the navigation, Midwestern agriculture, and fishing industries, even though the port was similarly not hit directly. A direct hit would seriously damage the national economy.

It is in the interest of all Americans to restore Louisiana’s ravaged coastal wetlands so that they can once again serve their historic hurricane-buffering role, and to upgrade New Orleans’ levees to finally provide the protection the federal government promised in the 1960s. Thanks to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairmen Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar, and the Louisiana congressional delegation, the WRDA bill takes significant strides toward these goals. For example, it directs the Corps to bolster New Orleans’ levees, and instructs the Corps to fix one of New Orleans’ biggest vulnerabilities by plugging the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, restoring the protective wetlands it damaged, and reducing the role it plays in intensifying destructive storm surge.

The bill also includes critical reforms such as revising the guidelines the Corps uses to evaluate projects, and a requirement that some projects undergo independent scientific peer review. On the other hand, the president and reformers such as Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, are correct in stating that the bill does not do enough to rein in bad projects. We hope that Mr. Feingold will continue fighting for reforms, including appointment of an independent commission to prioritize critical projects and criticize boondoggles.

However, the president can kill boondoggles now. For example, he can direct the Department of Justice to ignore Corps pleas to appeal a recent court ruling halting Missouri’s St. John’s-New Madrid Floodway project. The Corps not only cooked the cost-benefit analysis in support of this pork barrel project designed to turn wetlands into corn fields, but, according the Court, “demonstrated its willingness to do whatever it takes to proceed with this project — change definitions, abandon core assumptions — even if its means ignoring serious environmental impacts.”

Another pending agricultural drainage project that is based on shoddy analysis and would cost more than $200 million is the Yazoo Pumps project in Mississippi. It relies on an antiquated, 66-year-old project authorization and an independent review retained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that called the project’s economic analysis severely and fundamentally flawed. Yazoo Pumps proposes 100 percent federal funding for construction of the world’s largest hydraulic pumping plant in one of the most sparsely populated regions in the state of Mississippi. If built, it would damage more than 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands in the heart of the Mississippi River migratory bird flyway and adversely affect threatened fish and wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes this project, EPA has the power to veto this project under Clean Water Act section 404(c), and the president can direct the White House’s Counsel on Environmental Quality to ensure that this project is never built.

Even New Orleans has its easily killed duds. The president could put a stop to the approximately $1 billion Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock Project by directing the Office of Management and Budget to exercise strict oversight of a new court-ordered cost-benefit analysis, and thus prevent what the St. John’s court called “results-oriented decision-making.”

Stopping bad Corps of Engineers projects is a wonderful example of where we can both protect the environment and cut the federal budget deficit. Friends of New Orleans and the coastal wetlands oppose the president’s plans to veto WRDA because of the critical projects and reforms it contains, but we support the president’s emphasis on culling bad Corps projects by calling on him to exercise administrative action and independent review that would stop bad projects that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Paul Harrison is an attorney and the coastal Louisiana project director for Environmental Defense.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide