by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
For several years I have been a senior adviser to the respected environmental firm, Dawson and Associates. The organization helps with projects that require permits, especially from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the firm’s associates include numerous retired USACE officials. Many were generals, district commanders, and their civilian bosses at the Pentagon. Their personal and professional ties to the agency run deep, making their advice and assistance highly valuable to clients.
That close-knit community was understandably chagrined when a Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney, Tony Francois, penned an editorial in “The Hill” calling USACE a “rogue agency.” He asserts that the original military mission of the Corps has diminished in importance, so it has become an out-of-control environmental regulator, almost for lack of anything else to do.
It is an oversimplification, because the agency’s environmental regulatory mission was assigned by Congress, not invented by bored bureaucrats. Nevertheless, there is a legitimate discussion about whether USACE is still the right agency for some of its functions. Its modern portfolio includes dams, power plants, and canals — which are also built and operated by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. USACE’s work also includes environmental permitting, especially for projects that involve waterways and wetlands — which are also regulated by the EPA. No wonder local governments, utilities, and builders often feel lost in the shuffle of “who’s in charge?