Padilla, Tillis Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Army Corps Environmental Mitigation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Civil Works environmental mitigation for USACE infrastructure projects.

USACE Civil Works builds critical flood control, navigation, water supply, and recreational projects across the country. These infrastructure projects often impact terrestrial and aquatic species and waters covered under the Clean Water Act. Any USACE Civil Works projects that cause unavoidable adverse impacts to wetlands, streams, or other aquatic resources must be offset by restoration, establishment, enhancement, or preservation efforts in a process known as “compensatory mitigation.”

Since 2015, the Corps has started or completed an average of just 58 percent of its required annual mitigation, according to annual status reports. This bill would provide USACE Civil Works with the same tools provided under the USACE Regulatory program’s 2008 final rule guiding mitigation requirements. It would also allow USACE Civil Works to contract with a third-party provider to properly and efficiently mitigate the environmental impacts for Civil Works projects.

“As the Army Corps makes vital repairs to levees and critical infrastructure to protect against flooding, we must pair any disruptions to river flows or aquatic habitat with comparable and timely ecosystem restoration,” said Senator Padilla. “This legislation will help build lasting, sustainable flood infrastructure while saving taxpayer dollars and protecting the biodiversity of our waterways.”

“North Carolina has a long track record of delivering successful mitigation projects to offset the ecological impacts of NC DOT projects,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to partner with Senator Padilla to expand this proven performance model to projects across the country and give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the flexibility needed to clear its unmet mitigation backlog.”

“The way we mitigate the damages we cause makes a difference,” said Melissa Samet, Legal Director for Water Resources and Coasts at the National Wildlife Federation. “We hope the Corps will use the important tool provided by this legislation to implement more effective solutions that have better outcomes for people and wildlife.”

“The Ecological Restoration Business Association (ERBA) applauds the leadership of Senator Padilla and Senator Tillis introducing the Improving Corps Civil Works Compensatory Mitigation Act. Clarifying the Corps’ authority to contract directly with mitigation providers for the ecological impacts of Civil Works projects equips the Corps with a tool to more efficiently offset impacts, improve environmental outcomes, address the backlog of outstanding mitigation liabilities, and align with the mitigation standards established in the 2008 Compensatory Mitigation Rule. This act will also help ensure that construction of critical life and safety Civil Works projects are not delayed by the Corps’ limitations to identify suitable mitigation options,” said Ecological Restoration Business Association (ERBA) Board President, Greg DeYoung.

“We thank Senator Padilla and Senator Tillis for supporting policies that dramatically increase the speed and scale of ecological restoration to benefit fish and wildlife and their habitats,” said Alex Funk, Director of Water Resources with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As the Corps advances infrastructure projects to address critical water resource and community needs, it is critical to ensure that the Corps is offsetting its environmental impacts in the most efficient and effective way possible. The Improving Corps Civil Works Compensatory Mitigation Act will provide a much needed overhaul of the Corps mitigation efforts and address the Corps’ documented mitigation backlog.”

California’s Sacramento region faces an especially urgent need to improve the delivery and durability of mitigation alongside Civil Works projects. The region is one of the most at-risk areas for flooding in the United States due to its location at the confluence of and within the floodplain of the American and Sacramento Rivers.

Representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-02) and Garret Graves (R-La.-06) are leading companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Senator Padilla has long been a staunch advocate for water affordability and ensuring access to safe water throughout California and across the country. In 2022, he supported the Senate passage of the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2022, which included several provisions championed by Padilla to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works activities, including flood control and dam safety, navigation, and ecosystem restoration throughout California and across the country. He has consistently supported USACE projects to help control flooding in the Sacramento region, including to plan, engineer, and design flood control for Lower Cache Creek in Yolo County. He and the late Senator Dianne Feinstein also secured $870 million for USACE water projects in California from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the FY22 omnibus funding bill.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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