Thursday, March 04, 2010

Report & Hearing Critical Of Corps Implementation Of 2007 WRDA

Mar 3: The House  Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), Chaired by Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), released a report criticizing the U.S. Corps of Engineer's implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. A release from the Committee indicates that WRDA 2007's requirements for increased transparency, accountability, and modernization "are the most sweeping reforms of how the Corps of Engineers develops and implements its projects and programs since the Water Resources Development Act of 1986."

    The release says the report shows that since WRDA 2007 was enacted, "the Corps has been slow to implement the programmatic reforms and projects in the law, and the results often have been inadequate and inconsistent with the statute and Congressional intent. Among the issues the report examines are the Corps' failure to follow its mitigation requirements and monitoring, submit larger and controversial project proposals to an independent review, improve the quality of modeling and analysis, update its guidelines for project planning and implementation, and streamline its project formulation and delivery process."

    The full Committee held a hearing entitled, The Water Resources Development Act of 2007: A Review of Implementation in its Third Year. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Department of Army and Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and representatives from the: Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) & American Association of Port Authorities; National Wildlife Federation (NWF); The National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA); American Society of Civil Engineers; and National Waterways Conference.

    On November 8, 2007, Congress enacted the WRDA 2007 over the veto of President Bush. On November 6, 2007, the House of Representatives voted 361-54 to override the veto. On November 8, 2007, the Senate voted 79-14 to override the veto. A background report from the Committee indicates that since November 8, 2007, the Department of the Army and the Corps have been slow to implement the programmatic reforms and projects contained in that law.6 Where the Army and the Corps have implemented reforms, the results often have been inadequate and inconsistent with the statute and Congressional intent.
    The Committee report indicates, "In April 2008, the Committee initiated an oversight investigation of WRDA 2007 implementation. The Committee learned that neither the office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Works (Assistant Secretary) nor the Corps is implementing WRDA 2007 in a timely manner, and neither office possesses information sufficient to determine whether Corps district and division offices are implementing the law. The lack of information and awareness at the Washington, D.C. level severely inhibits the ability of the Corps to achieve the results of WRDA 2007 as intended by Congress."
    In a lengthy opening statement Chairman Oberstar said, "Since November 8, 2007, the Department of the Army and the Corps of Engineers have been slow to implement the programmatic reforms and projects contained in that law. Where the Army and the Corps have implemented reforms, the results often have been inadequate and inconsistent with the statute and Congressional intent." Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment said, " I hope that this hearing will shed light on why many of the mandates in the bill still await action 28 months after the Water Resources bill's enactment. The Corps was required to implement revised principles and guidelines within one year of enactment – we still have not seen them."
    The Corps testified that it "established a joint team to oversee the implementation of [WRDA 2007] upon its passage on November 7, 2007. The joint team continues to work toward completing implementation guidance of the Act. . .We have given priority for implementation guidance to national policy provisions and to those project and program provisions where funds have been appropriated. We are nearing 80% completion of WRDA Implementation Guidance and are working to complete this important task."
    NWF testified that it would focus its testimony on what they see as "the most critical WRDA reform areas: independent peer review (Section 2034), mitigation for fish and wildlife and wetlands losses (Section 2036), and revision of the Water Resources Principles and Guidelines (Section 2031) of WRDA 2007." NWF said they had reviewed the guidance and the extensive amount of other material provided by Assistant Secretary Darcy and the Corps in response questions submitted on November 19, 2009 by Senators Feingold, McCain, Carper, Lieberman, Cardin, and Landrieu; and had conferred with conservation leaders across the country on their experiences regarding many of the projects identified in the documents and the WRDA policy reforms. They said, "On the whole, we have found that to date the implementation of these provisions is in many cases barely underway, guidance that has been prepared in many ways falls short, in some cases far short, of what we believe Congress and the law intended and the objectives sought in the WRDA reforms are still mostly unimplemented."
    The National Waterways Conference, Inc., which represents water resources stakeholders, including flood control associations, levee boards, waterways shippers and carriers, industry and regional associations, port authorities, shipyards, dredging contractors, regional water districts, engineering consultants, and state and local governments; used the hearing to relay its opposition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) "Proposed National Objectives, Principles and Standards for Water and Related Resources Implementation Studies" (Proposal) issued in December [See WIMS 12/9/09]. [Note: comment on the CEQ proposal has been extended from March 5, to April 5, 2010, see link below]. The Waterways Conference said that "CEQ took over the proceeding" of developing Principles and Standards applicable to planning studies of water resource projects which was assigned to the Corps under WRDA 2007. The Conference said CEQ's goal was "expanding application of the Principles to water resources development programs and activities government-wide."
    The Waterways Conference included its comments on the CEQ proposal and said, "As drafted, the Proposal fails to establish a clear, concise, and workable framework to guide the development of water resources projects. It is incoherent and inconsistent - and thus not implementable in a practical sense. It substantially fails to comply with the explicit directions in Section 2031 of WRDA 07 as well as the large body of previous law and policy related to water resources. It is written so as to not require or even encourage use of proven analytical tools to distinguish among alternatives. It limits in a preemptive manner certain categories of alternatives, and (even while encouraging 'collaboration') seems to assume that water resources planning decisions are the exclusive prerogative of the Federal government thus not recognizing the keystone role played by non-Federal sponsors. Because of these critical and extensive failings, we recommend that this effort be put aside and restarted from the beginning."
    Access a lengthy release from Chairman Oberstar and Subcommittee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (click here). Access a release on the Committee report and link to the complete 21-page report (click here). Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, a video, and related information (click here). Access the 9-page hearing background report on the hearing (click here). Access the Federal Register announcement extending the comment period on the CEQ Proposal (click here). Access the proposed CEQ Principles and Guidelines (click here). Access an overview and links from CEQ to extensive background information (click here). Access the CEQ public comment website to submit comments (click here).