Rooney Rule to Restore Everglades Gains Grassroots Support
Today, Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-17) introduced the Responsible Environmental Preservation and American Infrastructure Restoration Act (The REPAIR Act, H. Res. 313), which would make a limited change to the House rules to allow Congress to direct necessary funding to vetted water resources development projects of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The REPAIR Act updates the definition of a “congressional earmark” to appropriately classify these critical public safety and environmental projects that provide for the management of the storage, release and flow of water from our nation’s rivers, lakes and dams. Since Congress enacted the so-called earmark moratorium in 2010, it has disproportionately impacted Corps and Reclamation projects simply because they happen to exist in specific states and districts and do not receive their funding through a formula or competitive grants.
“The problem with these projects being classified as “earmarks” is that they’re routinely underfunded and the earmark ban prohibits us from making up the difference when these projects are indiscriminately cut by the executive branch,” Rooney said. “This is especially harmful when additional money is needed to respond to unforeseen weather events like last year’s 100-year rain in Florida or when Congressional authorizations occur after the spring budget cycle.”
In Rooney’s district, the Corps’ is 100 percent responsible for funding and maintaining the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and shoulders 50 percent of the costs of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The Corps classifies the Dike at its highest risk level, meaning there’s significant potential for a breach that would result in significant loss of life, overwhelming economic damages to the south Florida agricultural industry and catastrophic environmental impacts to the southern Everglades.
“I want to be clear – my idea is not a complete repeal of the earmark ban and I am not advocating for a return to the corrupt practice of earmarking funds for special interests. Frankly, if anyone is padding their pockets and buying votes in Congress, its political action committees that maintain their relevancy by perpetuating this idea that earmarks are the root of all evil and dysfunction in Washington. The greatest impediment to speeding up critical Corps projects in all of our districts is succumbing to the political expediency of blaming our dysfunction on a fictitious boogeyman.”
The Consolidated Appropriations bill of 2017 that passed the House yesterday provides the former Administration’s request of $49 million for the Dike and $106 million for South Florida ecosystem restoration activities – which is less than half of what’s required to complete these critical projects on schedule. Because the Dike and Everglades restoration projects are considered earmarks, only the executive branch controls how much money they can receive each year, not Congress. At the current combined state and federal rate of $183 million per year, it will be another 100 years before CERP is completed. In order to achieve the CERP’s ecosystem restoration goals within an acceptable timeline of 55 years, CERP requires a steady commitment of at least $325 million annually and the Dike needs at least $200 million per year to prevent a catastrophic breach.
Rooney’s proposal has garnered grassroots support that continues to grow –
“Our 2,000 public water system members appreciate your continued efforts on their behalf to support and promote their mission related to public health and environmental protection in Florida.” – Gary Williams, Executive Director, Florida Rural Water Association
“The more than 350 member companies of FTBA and the thousands of employees support your efforts to establish limited exceptions to the earmark moratorium for these economically-vital water resources development projects.” – Robert G. Burleson, President Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, Inc.
“The repeal of this earmark moratorium is integral to the nation’s economic development and sustainability” – Doug Wheeler, President and CEO Florida Ports Council
“In Sarasota County we experience the real consequences of the federal government’s delays and funding shortfalls and it’s essential that our Representatives have an opportunity to successfully intervene on our behalf” – Paul Caragiulo, Chairman of Sarasota County Florida
“The earmark moratorium presents a challenge for our economy, particularly when we have no recourse to advocate for necessary federal funds for projects.” – Mike Adams and David “Lefty Durando”, Co-Chairs of Northern Everglades Alliance
“On behalf of the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida, we endorse the legislation and believe it should be expanded to include all transportation projects. Frankly, the members of our association never understood why Congress wanted to transfer that Constitutional authority to unelected bureaucrats in Washington.” – Jim Cordero, Director of Government Affairs, Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida
A full list of letters support can be found here.