Senate Panel OK’s $7.75B for Corps of Engineers in FY20

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $48.9 billion Energy and Water Development appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 that appropriates $7.75 billion for the water resources program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is $752 million more than was appropriated in 2019 (a 10.7 percent increase) and is $395 million more than the House of Representatives proposes to appropriate. (It’s $2.9 billion more than President Trump requested.)

The bill was then reported as S. 2470 – GPO won’t have the bill text online until Saturday, but the text of the explanatory committee report is here.

The big funding increases in the Senate bill are in the Construction account (up $612 million, or 28 percent, above last year), and in the Investigations account (the feasibility studies that, if successful, grow up to become construction projects), which gets a $30 million, or 24 percent, boost from last year. The committee report says that the $30 million increase will allow six new feasibility studies.

With regards to the construction account, the appropriators have been hampered in recent years by Congress’s self-imposed ban on earmarks (the Corps portion of the committee report is traditionally a laundry list of specific projects, but since 2011, Congress has been unable to add specific projects to the annual lists submitted by the Corps). But the appropriators can originate programs – in this case, something called the “regional dredge demonstration program,” described in the committee report as “deep draft navigation projects in the Gulf of Mexico, between Louisiana and Florida,” gets a $525 million line item in the Senate bill. And there is a $388 million line item for “navigation,” much of which may wind up going to the Chickamauga Lock replacement project on the Tennessee River, in the home state of Energy and Water Subcommittee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

The Senate bill would provide $1.67 billion of its total funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which exceeds the minimum HMTF appropriation required by the Water Resources Development Act. Even though the Senate bill is $395 million bigger than the House bill, the House bill would actually spend $27 million more out of the HMTF. This is because of the blend of recommended projects – the HMTF appropriation amount is not spelled out in the bill but depends on the depth of dredging of each individual project – projects of different depths have different HMTF versus general fund cost splits.

The following chart shows the Senate FY 2020 appropriations level for the Corps in context with the FY 2009-2019 enacted levels, plus the occasional tranche of emergency funding for hurricane or flood relief.

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