Hearing

A Review of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Chief's Reports

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0 Wednesday, June 05, 2013 @ 10:00 | Contact:

Transcript of Hearing
Summary of Subject Matter

Opening Statements

Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Hearing on “A Review of the Unites States Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports”

June 5, 2013

Opening Statement

(Remarks as Prepared)

Today’s hearing will play a valuable role in the Committee’s development of a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  Based on extensive studies, Chief’s Reports make final recommendations to authorize specific construction activities.  This hearing will bring greater transparency to that process and will provide the Committee the opportunity to closely examine the currently pending Chief’s Reports.

It is critical for Congress to re-engage in the development of the nation’s water resources.  Congress must have a role in determining agency priorities and ensuring we fulfill our Constitutional responsibilities.

Over the last few months we have held a number of public educational forums, roundtables, and hearings on the Corps of Engineers program.  Themes that have emerged from these public forums include the importance of project prioritization, public-private partnerships, empowering non-federal project sponsors, and especially, study acceleration.

While it once took the Corps three or five years to complete a study, it has now become the norm for the Corps to take 10, 12, or 15 years to produce a study. And it’s no wonder it’s taking so much time, since the Corps, by law and regulation, has to review in detail many different alternatives.

Just because a study is costly, complex, and long, does not necessarily mean it’s a better project.

This is not necessarily the fault of the Corps of Engineers. The agency has to clear hurdles placed in their way by other federal agencies like the Department of the Interior.  And in some cases, non-federal project sponsors have difficulties on their end.

Congress has only enacted two WRDA laws in the last 14 years.  We have many goals we want to accomplish in WRDA, but one of the most important is to get WRDAs back on two-year cycles to ensure Congress has a fundamental role in the development of Corps of Engineers projects and in the oversight of the agency.

I want to thank Chairman Gibbs for holding this hearing, and I want to thank General Walsh for his service to the nation.   If this were an easy job, Congress would not have given the mission to the Army. 

 

Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH)

Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Hearing on “A Review of the Unites States Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports”

June 5, 2013

Opening Statement

(Remarks as Prepared)

Today we are holding a hearing to review Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports, the process the Corps undertakes to develop these projects, and some of the steps the Corps is carrying out internally to accelerate the process.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal government’s largest water resources development and management agency. The Corps began its water resources program in the 1800’s when Congress for the first time appropriated money for improving river navigation.

Today, the Corps of Engineers constructs projects for the purposes of navigation, flood control, beach erosion control and shoreline protection, hydroelectric power, recreation, water supply, environmental protection, restoration and enhancement, and fish and wildlife mitigation.

The Corps of Engineers planning process considers economic development and environmental needs as it addresses water resources problems. The planning process addresses the Nation’s water resources needs in a systems context and explores a full range of alternatives in developing solutions. 

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is subject to all federal statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and all previous Water Resources Development Acts, Flood Control Acts, and Rivers and Harbors Acts. These laws and associated regulations and guidance provide the legal basis for the Corps of Engineers planning process.

For instance, when carrying out a feasibility study, NEPA requires the Corps of Engineers include an identification of significant environmental resources likely to be impacted by the proposed project, an assessment of the impacts, a full disclosure of likely impacts, and a consideration of a full range of alternatives, including a No Action Alternative and Action by Others alternatives.

NEPA also requires a 30 day public review of any draft document and a 30 day public review of any final document produced by the Corps of Engineers.

Additionally, when carrying out a feasibility study, the Clean Water Act requires an evaluation of the potential impacts of a proposed project or action and requires a letter from a state agency ensuring the proposed project or action complies with state water quality standards.

The Army Corps of Engineers also has to formulate alternative plans to ensure all reasonable alternatives are evaluated, including plans that maximize net national economic development benefits and other plans that incorporate other federal, state, and local concerns. Mitigation of adverse impacts is to be included in each of the alternative plans reviewed in the study. The Corps of Engineers is also responsible for identifying areas of risk and uncertainty in the study, so decisions can be made with some degree of reliability on the estimated costs and benefits of each alternative plan.

Typically, the plan recommended by the Corps of Engineers is the plan with the greatest net economic benefit consistent with protection of the Nation’s environment. However, the Corps does have the discretion to recommend another alternative if there are overriding reasons for recommending another plan, based on other federal, state, or local concerns.

By now many of us have seen the actual size of typical studies carried out by the Corps of Engineers.  While these are complex projects that need to be reviewed by the public and other State and Federal agencies, the level of analysis required by other laws and regulations are crippling the project delivery process. 

For example, the study for the Sabine-Neches Waterway navigation project was authorized in June 1997 and the Chief’s Report was transmitted to Congress in July 2011.  According to the Feasibility Study for the Sabine-Neches Waterway navigation project, more than 120 alternatives at 9 different depths were evaluated prior to a completed Chief’s Report. 

We are literally studying infrastructure projects to death, but this is not solely the fault of the Corps of Engineers. 

Congress needs to change the way the Corps of Engineers carries out its business.  It is no longer acceptable that these studies take dozens of years to complete.  Ultimately, the federal tax payer is on the hook for these studies and for the length of time it takes to carry them out, delaying the benefits these projects are ultimately supposed to provide.

As we move forward with what will be a policy-heavy Water Resources Development Act, we will be focusing on accelerating the study and project delivery process, as well as better prioritizing these worthwhile investments that the American public has relied on for decades.

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Witnesses

Major General Michael J. Walsh, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers | Written Testimony

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