Wednesday, April 22, 2015

House Bill Would Fund Most Army Corps' Mississippi River Projects at Administration-Proposed Levels

Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Earlier today (April 22), the House Appropriations Committee held a markup session during which Committee members considered and approved the Energy and Water Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2016, and its accompanying Committee report detailing specific spending line items. The bill sets spending levels for the Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Department for the fiscal year beginning October 1, and next goes to the House floor for consideration by the entire chamber (as early as next week).  Overall, the bill would restore funding cuts proposed by the Obama Administration for Army Corps' construction, operation and maintenance and investigations, while funding most - but not all - Mississippi River Basin projects at levels proposed by the Administration.

In addition to setting spending levels, the bill contains riders that impact how the Army Corps manages water resource issues.  Those include:
  • A provision that effectively prevents the Army Corps from using funds to implement a currently-proposed "Waters of the United States" rule (pertaining to the definition of waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act; see Section 105, page 10 of the spending bill); and
  • A prohibition of any "changes to the definition of 'fill material' and 'discharge of fill material' for the purposes of the Clean Water Act" (see Sections 104 and 106, pages 10 and 11 of the spending bill).
Below are some Mississippi River Basin-relevant Army Corps' program spending levels from the House bill and accompanying report. Respective Obama Administration fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget plan levels are also indicated (here are links to the Administration's Civil Works Budget Overview (PDF) and OMB's Civil Works budget appendix).

General Line Items
At a general level, the House restored funding for Army Corps' cuts proposed in the President's budget, reprising a proposed cut-restoration scenario that has been commonplace within both Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses in recent years.
  • The Army Corps would receive $5.597 billion in discretionary funds (as opposed to $4.732 billion proposed under the President's plan). This compares to $5.455 billion that Congress appropriated to the Corps in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.
  • The Corps' construction budget is $1.631 billion in the bill, funding ongoing construction (compared to $1.172 billion proposed by the President and $1.639 billion provided in FY 2015).  The Committee specifically recommends no new construction be started in FY 2016.  For FY 2016, the administration proposed four new construction projects, including a Kentucky flood protection project (Ohio River shoreline at Paducah), and a Minnesota environmental restoration project (Marsh Lake, Minnesota River Authority).  Those four projects would be eliminated under the Committee bill.
  • The Army Corps' operations and maintenance budget is $3.06 billion under the bill ($2.71 billion were proposed in the President's plan).  This compares to $2.91 billion actually allocated in FY 2015.
  • The Army Corps' regulatory budget would be funded at the same $200 million level in FY 2016 as in FY 2015 (a $5 million reduction compared to the Administration's FY 2016 budget proposal). The agency's Clean Water Act permitting program is funded under that budget line item.
  • The "Mississippi River and Tributaries" Army Corps' projects are funded at $302 million under the bill (compared to $225 million under the President's plan).  The FY 2016 Committee spending level would be $27 million more than the FY 2015 actual appropriation.  Those projects, according to the Corps budget summary, involve "ongoing construction, operation and maintenance, and investigation activities, with emphasis on the 1,600 miles of levees and related features on the main stem of the lower Mississippi River and in the Atchafalaya Basin, which reduce the flood risk to a large region."
Specific Project Line Items
House spending levels are noted below for several Mississippi River Basin projects (the President's proposed budget levels are indicated in parentheses).  Except for the Kentucky flood protection and Minnesota environmental restoration projects mentioned above (which would be eliminated under the House bill), the House spending levels for specific projects exactly mirror those in the President's budget plan (note: this is not an inclusive Mississippi River Basin project list; to see the full project breakdown, go to this link):

Mississippi River Basin Investigations (Studies)
  • $50,000 for Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration- Mississippi River Hydrology, LA ($50,000)
  • $400,000 for Illinois River Basin Restoration, IL ($400,000)
  • $500,000 for Interbasin Control of Great Lakes-Mississippi River Aquatic Nuisance Species, IL, IN, OH, WI ($500,000)
  • $600,000 for Minnesota River Watershed Study, MN, SD (Minnesota River Authority) ($600,000)
Mississippi River and Tributaries Construction, Operation and Maintenance, and other items “Remaining Items”)
  • $19,787,000 for Upper Mississippi River Restoration, IL, IA, MN, MO, WI ($19,787,000) - both down from $33,170,000 appropriated in FY 2015
  • $180,000,000 for Olmsted Locks And Dam, Ohio River, IL, KY ($180,000,000)
  • $47,127,000 for Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery, IA, KS, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD ($47,127,000)
  • $15,909,000 for Mississippi River Levees (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN ($15,909,000)
  • $43,231,000 for Channel Improvement (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN ($43,231,000)
Operation and Maintenance
  • $65,124,000 for Channel Improvement (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN ($65,124,000)
  • $9,175,000 for Mississippi River Levees (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN ($9,175,000)
Other House spending bill Army Corps' line items that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources, but are also relevant beyond the River Basin, include:
  • $1.178 billion in income from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, for harbor maintenance, construction, and operations activities ($0.915 billion in the President's budget);
  • $108 million in income from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for construction and rehabilitation of the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure ($53 million in the President's budget); and
  • $28 million for the Asian carp dispersal barrier project on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins (also $28 million in the President's budget).

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