A Review of Recent United States Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports and Post Authorization Change Reports
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Hearing on “A Review of Recent United States Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports and Post Authorization Change Reports”
April 29, 2014
(Remarks as Prepared)
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Congress is prepared to re-engage in the development of the nation’s water resources and carry out our role in prioritizing projects and activities carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Historically, water resources legislation has been enacted every two years to provide oversight and policy direction to the Corps of Engineers and to authorize need project improvements. But since such a measure has not been enacted since 2007, Congress has been silent on needed reforms and has failed to take action to develop, maintain, and support our nation’s vital water infrastructure needs.
One of our top priorities in the development of our Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) legislation in the House, and in our work in conference with the Senate, has been the importance of strengthening oversight, transparency, and accountability.
Over the last year and a half this Committee has held numerous of public educational forums, roundtables, and hearings on the Corps of Engineers program. This process included an oversight hearing on June 5, 2013 that provided Members the opportunity to review Chief’s Reports submitted to Congress and was integral to the development of the House WRRDA bill that passed by a “slim” margin of 417-3.
Today’s hearing continues our strong oversight of the Corps of Engineers and will provide Members the opportunity to review the 11 Chief’s Reports and eight Post Authorization Change Reports submitted to Congress since that June 5, 2013 hearing.
This oversight hearing will be extremely valuable to our work in conference, which we are hopeful is very near to resolution. And once we finish this WRRDA bill, it is critical to get WRDA’s 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 Peabody for his service to the nation. If this were an easy job, Congress would not have given the mission to the Army.
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Today we are holding our second hearing this Congress to review Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Reports, the process the Corps undertakes to develop these water resources development 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 challenges. The planning process addresses the nation’s water resources needs in a systems context and explores a full range of alternatives in developing solutions that meet both national and local needs.
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 to 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.
These planning efforts do not take place in a back room somewhere. There are public meetings as well as interagency meetings involving local, state, and other federal agencies.
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.
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 taxpayer 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 have constructed a policy-heavy Water Resources Development Act, both the House and Senate conferees focused 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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