On July 19, the Senate voted 54 to 46 to place new controls on water projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The legislation was an amendment attached to a new, $11.6-billion funding measure that adds 100 new projects to the Corps’ schedule.
The legislation calls for creating independent panels to review (and offer their advice to Congress and the Corps) proposed water projects that are valued at $40 million or more, or that could be considered controversial. The panel members would be appointed by the Secretary of the Army. An additional amendment, which called for creating an interagency panel to prioritize Corps projects, did not pass.
The $40-million limit means about 55 percent of all new water projects in the bill would be subject to independent review. Similar legislation, calling for a $50-million ceiling prior to review, was passed by the House last year following Hurricane Katrina. Congressional leaders now will hammer out a compromise before sending the proposal to the president.
Environmental groups and proponents in Congress, such as Sen. John McCain (R., -Ariz.) who co-sponsored the legislation, say it is a good first step to reforming the Corps. "The record of the Corps of Engineers cries out for independent review," McCain said from the Senate floor on the 19th.