Washington, D.C.—The National Waterways Conference (NWC) opposes using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“We are strongly opposed to the diversion of any funds appropriated to [the Corps], whether disaster supplemental funds or through regular annual appropriations, for the border wall,” NWC President Amy Larson said.
“We would be very concerned about the direct impact to those projects and the residual impact to the remainder of the civil works program.”
A spokesman for the Department of Defense said the agency is reviewing available authorities and funding mechanisms to identify options.
“No decisions have been made on Department of Defense funding for a border wall,” Capt. Bill Speaks said, adding it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, accompanied President Donald Trump on his recent trip to the southern border to highlight the need for a wall.
Top House Democrats sent a letter to the president, challenging his authority to transfer unobligated disaster funding of the Corps for a border wall.
“We believe that any suggestion that you could use this statutory authority for this purpose is misinformed,” the letter states.
Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler revealed to senators that a proposal to replace the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule could miss EPA’s previously set deadline by a full year.
“Our goal is to have that rulemaking completed by the end of this year,” Wheeler told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a hearing on his nomination to get the top job permanently.
If his timetable holds, it would mean EPA will miss not only the 2018 deadline testified to repeatedly by Wheeler’s predecessor, Scott Pruitt, but also a much less ambitious September deadline the agency cited in a document released last year.
Wheeler’s revelation on timing drew no pushback from senators, as other issues such as climate change and the partial government shutdown—which has shuttered the EPA—took their focus.
Meanwhile, the shutdown has wreaked havoc on EPA’s schedule to push ahead with the WOTUS effort.
Publication of its proposed rule in the Federal Register, which would have kicked off a 60-day public comment period, has been postponed along with a public hearing scheduled for January 23 in Kansas City, Kan.
EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the two agencies leading the Trump administration’s charge against the Obama-era WOTUS, are expected to notify the public of revised dates for the public hearing, the start of the public comment period, a public webcast and other outreach activities after the shutdown ends.
Wheeler’s comments during the confirmation hearing seemed to satisfy senators’ need for an update, especially concerning the certainty farmers, ranchers and others would be given under a revised WOTUS rule.
“My overarching goal for the WOTUS program is so the property owner can decide for themselves whether or not they have a water of the U.S. without having to hire outside consultants or attorneys to do that,” he said.
Farm Bureau Speech
President Trump used his January 14 speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th annual convention in New Orleans to promote his administration’s efforts for the nation’s inland waterways and those against the 2015 WOTUS rule and what he called “one-sided, unfair trade deals.”
“We are going to keep federal regulators out of your—out of your tanks—your stock tanks, your drainage ditches, your puddles, and your ponds,” Trump said. “You could have a pond, a little pond, and they consider it a lake. And you’re regulated as though it were a lake.”
The organization supports the administration’s effort to revise the definition of WOTUS and provide clear rules for farmers to follow, but remain concerned over the impact of the trade disputes with China on exports of soy and corn.
Shutdown Effects On CG
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard reached a historic but no doubt unwelcome distinction as the partial government shutdown became the longest in history, eclipsing the 21-day funding lapse in the mid-1990s.
“To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations,” Adm. Karl Schultz, Coast Guard commandant, tweeted and then expanded his comment in a statement directed to the men and women under his command.
“Stay the course, stand the watch, and serve with pride. You are not, and will not be, forgotten.”
President Trump signed a bill into law requiring government employees to be paid for wages lost, work performed and leave used during the shutdown.
Meanwhile, there appears to be no end in sight for the current impasse.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue called on national leaders to pass a significant infrastructure package this year, once again expressing support for a “modest” increase in the fuel tax.
Donohue described the nation’s highways, bridges, ports and waterways as monuments to American achievement.
“We want to keep it that way,” he said in his 2019 State of American Business Address.
Donohue said the Chamber will be offering cash prizes totaling $25,000 for the most viable ideas for a long-term sustainable funding source for infrastructure.
He also spoke of other infrastructure priorities, including the urgent need for permitting reform.
Donohue expressed opposition to the “trade war” that is being waged through mounting tariffs, which he described as taxes paid by American families and businesses.