Environmentalists are pushing back against the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, saying that a part of the bill that supporters say increases efficiency actually guts the environmental-review process.
The bill, which the House takes up Wednesday, would set an outside limit of three years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a feasibility study for proposed water-resources transportation and infrastructure projects. As part of the feasibility study, the Corps would also be required to issue an environmental-impact statement.
Currently, there is no limit for the amount of time the Corps can spend to create an environmental-impact statement.
Although the bill does not specify a time limit for the environmental-review process, by imposing an outer limit of three years for the entire feasibility study to be completed, environmentalists say it will not allow the Corps adequate time to consider the full environmental impact of a project in cases where it would take longer than three years for the review to be completed.
“This bill will make it very difficult to review the environmental impacts of major water projects and will significantly cut out the public from projects that have huge impacts across the country,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
According to environmental activists, the problem isn’t the time it takes to complete an environmental review; it’s the fact that Congress hasn’t appropriated the funds for the Corps to carry out its work.
“The Corps has a backlog of billions of dollars worth of projects,” said Melissa Samet, a senior water-resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “No matter how quickly an environmental study is completed, these projects still then have to get in line for limited funding.”
At least one of the bill’s cosponsors agrees that stalled appropriations account for the bulk of delays. “The principle cause of delay in Corps projects is either the uncertainty of a funding source or the inadequacy of a funding source,” said Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., ranking member on House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.
Bishop didn’t side entirely with environmentalists, however. “I think it is incumbent upon the Congress and the Corps to see to it that environmental reviews are sufficient to protect the environment,” he said. “What we’re looking to do is move the projects from conceptual stage to construction more quickly, and this is a part of it. But we’re trying to move projects forward in a way that is environmentally responsible.”
Other lawmakers are trying to find a middle ground. An amendment proposed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., submitted Tuesday morning, would put on hold the bill’s provisions that speed up the review process until Congress appropriates sufficient funds to reduce the backlog of projects to less than $20 billion.
“It’s a very reasonable compromise,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., one of the cosponsors of the amendment. “We’re not trying to strip out all these provisions. We just are saying let’s take care of the backlog on existing projects first. I’m in favor of analyzing the review process to make it better, but having artificial timetables and cutting people out, that’s not going to get more work done effectively. That’s a lose-lose proposition.”
The bill has bipartisan backing and was favorably reported out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with no dissenting votes in September.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."