The Young/Pombo Letter

 

January 15, 2003

 

Congress of the United States

Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert

Speaker of the House

H-232, The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Speaker Hastert:

 

The purpose of this letter is to express our strong objection on behalf of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Resources to authorizing language involving a project to deliver water to the Everglades that may appear in the Department of Interior and Related Agencies appropriations provisions of the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2003.

The proposed language would seek to legislatively mandate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implement so-called "Alternative 6D" to carry out the "Improved Water Deliveries" project authorized in the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act of 1989 (Public Law 101-229; the "Everglades Act").

This proposed language is intended to overturn a recent decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida -- that P.L. 101-229 did not give the Corps of Engineers the authority to condemn the private property of some eighty homeowners in an area known as the "8.5 Square Mile Area." (Jorge and Susan Garcia, Nelson Ruiz and Osvaldo E. Cueli v. United States of America, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Joseph W. Westphal, No. 01-801-CIV-MOORE.)

Our Committees strenuously object to this provision, because such an attempt to overturn a U.S. District Court's decisions would be a fundamental change in the underlying statutory authorization for the Improved Water Deliveries project.

P.L. 101-229 specifically directs the Corps of Engineers to determine if the Improved Water Deliveries project will adversely affect the 8.5 Square Mile Area, and if so, to construct a flood protection system to protect that area. (at 104; 16 USC at 410r-8.)

A decade ago, the Corps determined the modifications would adversely affect the 8.5 Square Mile Area, and as a result, developed detailed plans for the construction of flood protection measures around the 8.5 Square Mile Area to protect the area from flooding.

We are concerned that such a provision would redirect the Improved Water Deliveries project from the legislatively mandated requirement of providing flood protection for the 8.5 Square Mile Area to one of removing residents through the condemnation of their land.

Furthermore, Alternative 6D could cost the Federal Government $60 million more to implement as compared to the original project design that provided flood protection.

It is fundamentally flawed policy to have a substantive change in law to occur in an appropriations bill without any substantive debate.

The House Appropriations Committee has long been aware that our Committees oppose providing the Corps with new project authority to acquire land or to obligate funds beyond existing law under P.L. 101-229. (See, e.g., 147 Cong. Rec. E1232 (June 27, 2001) (colloquy of Chairman Hansen that he would have exercised his prerogative under the House rules to have language struck from H.R. 2217, the Fiscal Year 2002 Interior Appropriations bill, if it provided the Corps with any new authority to acquire land or to obligate funds beyond existing law under P.L. 101-229).

Nevertheless, during the last Congress, the House Appropriations Committee attempted to add to the Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 5093) authorizing language providing the Corps with new project authority to acquire land and obligate funds in the 8.5 Square Mile Area, without consulting with our committees.

In a letter to Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, we objected to the inclusion of the language in the bill.

Later, when the bill was considered by the whole House, we exercised our jurisdictional prerogative and raised a point of order twice against this language, first to remove it from the underlying bill, and second, to object to an amendment offered to reinstate the language.

Both points of order were sustained because such a change in the underlying authorization for the project constitutes legislating on an appropriations bill, in violation of Rule XXI of the Rules of the House.

In light of this, we are very concerned that similar authorizing language may appear in the Department of Interior and Related Agencies appropriations provisions of the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2003.

We request that the position of the committees with jurisdiction over this matter be respected and that any such language which would mandate the so-called "Alternative 6D" be rejected.

We should note that the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is evaluating potential options for meeting both the objectives of providing flood protection for the 8.5 Square Mile Area and restoring water flows in the Everglades National Park, and is planning to hold a hearing on the issue in the near future. The Committees are confident a balanced approached can be found to meet both objectives.

Your consideration is appreciated.

 

Sincerely,

Don Young

Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Richard W. Pombo

Chairman, Committee on Resources