NWC Calls For Common Sense in WRDA Hearing

Wednesday, March 31, 2004
The National Waterways Conference has called for “common sense and balance” regarding the latest report issued by the National Wildlife Federation and Taxpayers for Common Sense. "I'm sure this is just the 'first salvo' in the annual charge by the extremist activists to discredit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and waterway stakeholders by discrediting the Corps' primary missions--navigation and flood control," said Worth Hager, president of National Waterways Conference (NWC).

"I've seen the new 'Crossroads' report. It appears to be a rehash of previous claims and innuendoes, and is a testament to the willingness of these groups to risk our country's economic base in order to reach the goal of transferring the wetlands decision-making process [Section 404] away from the Corps of Engineers. They mistakenly assume that the full "value" of a project is reflected in the benefit-cost analyses performed by the Corps of Engineers. A benefit-cost analysis only relays the national economic benefits of a project. It is time for honesty and common sense." Under law, the Corps is directed to provide a benefit-cost analysis that reflects some of the national economic benefits of a project. Regional economic benefits and social benefits such as reduced air pollution, congestion mitigation, safety, security, reduced transportation rates by other modes, and recreational opportunities aren't included in U.S. calculations. Hager went on to say, "If those extremist activists were really serious about being 'environmental', they would join their European Green Party counterparts in championing the development of waterways. They would also support the common sense 'Corps reform' measures included in the proposed Water Resources bill from the House of Representatives rather than advancing proposals that will strangle the process. At the Senate Water Resources Development Act hearing on Wednesday, March 31, 2004, we plan to ask Congress to direct the Corps to include an additional analysis that details the full range of benefits, much like the Europeans do, so that the "true value" of our projects will be out there for the public to appreciate."

The report also perpetuates the myth of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "cooking the books." It carefully neglects to mention that the National Academy of Sciences exonerated the Corps of the "cooking the books" charge in a December report. It also references an old Army Inspector General report that relied on the testimony of a now-environmental spokesman, who wasted millions of Federal dollars through claims his model was valid. Bob Portiss, port director at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and chair of the National Waterways Conference, Inc., added, "Many people have been gulled into believing that Corps navigation projects are 'pork-barrel.' Nothing could be further from the truth. I am glad that our critics will finally get the chance to see our true value. In the entire Federal government, only the 'economic' water resources projects of the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation are subject to benefit-cost analyses, by law. And, those same projects are also designed to include environmental factors. The Corps projects that are not subject to benefit-cost analysis are the eco-system restoration projects--none of which are mentioned in the 'Crossroads' report."

For every dollar of federal investment in the flood prevention system, the country saves an average of $6 dollars in damages prevented. For every dollar spent on navigation operation and maintenance, there is an average of $14.10 back in transportation savings. Waterway stakeholders already pay into trust funds or partner in cost-sharing agreements for projects.

According to National Corn Growers Association's CEO Rick Tolman, "This report attacks the very lifeblood of our country's farmers. Obviously, food doesn't miraculously appear on grocery store shelves without going through the transportation system. We recently commissioned a study that found that doing nothing would ultimately cause a loss of almost 30,000 jobs by 2020, and widen our trade deficit by an additional $245 million. Just in corn-growing states, state and local tax receipts would decline by $185 million." George Grugett, Executive Vice President of the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association, summed up the reaction of most flood control proponents by saying, "What this newest report is advocating is nothing short of endangerment of our citizens. Flood control works are cost-shared by the local people. I'm not sure those extremists have really considered what their proposals will do to the lives and property of our citizens. It makes you wonder why they haven't."

Hager further stated, "The Corps is now, by NWC estimates, spending 35-40% of its meager budget on the environment. We support accountability for environmental restoration projects, not an open checkbook. We work regularly with environmental groups that believe, as we do, in projects that are both economically and environmentally sustainable--it's a common sense balance that gives health and prosperity to us and to future generations. It appears that those in the extreme activist movement prefer lawsuits and inflammatory rhetoric. They hurt you and me, the American taxpayers. Reports such as this have led to documented unreliability of our systems and an increase in transportation and flood damage costs. And, I'm sure, their next salvo will be coming soon."

"I'm not really shocked at the short-sightedness of this report," said Don Waldon, administrator of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and vice-chair of the National Waterways Conference, Inc., "After all, their agenda is to discredit the Corps - the only agency of the Federal government charged with balancing economic and environmental needs. We have only to look at Russia and Iraq to see what happens if we neglect our infrastructure."

(The preceding was composed and released by the National Waterways Conference)

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