Today, the House is expected to vote on a four-bill spending package before it leaves for August recess. Included in that spending package is $37.6 billion for the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers. The levels of funding for those agencies are projected to be below FY2017 levels, but $3.2 billion more than what the White House requested in the President’s Budget. In addition, reports suggest that Congress will be beefing up various Army Corps of Engineers accounts.
While the Army Corps of Engineers tries to do great work, Congress continually authorizes infrastructure projects that have created a backlog worth tens of billions of dollars. “Consequently, many important projects have stalled due to the misprioritization of federal funds,” says Tom Coburn’s 2009 Washed Out to Sea report.
While the new appropriations bill in Congress does prioritize funds for flood control projects, valuable resources are being taken from the Corps because of Congress’s parochial beachfront interests. According to Washed Out to Sea, “Roughly $100 million every year in federal funds is appropriated to ensuring coastal towns benefitting from lobbying and political influence on Capitol Hill maintain picturesque beaches for property owners and tourists.”
These projects, called “beach nourishment,” take away funding from other infrastructure priorities, including dams. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the average age for America’s 96,000 dams is 56, and listed 15,000 dams as “high risk” in its 2017 report.
“Most communities that secure federal beach replenishment earmarks appear to do so primarily because of political connections in Washington, D.C.,” says the Coburn report, and in the end “adding sediment to beaches is a costly, temporary fix.”
Rather than using federal tax dollars to improve the value of beachfront property, Congress should remove federal support for development on flood-prone areas altogether. This concept will be put to test in September, when Congress will have to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) – a federal program that insures against flood risk, even for coastal houses that are repeatedly flooded out by storms. While most agree that this is a poor use of tax dollars, it is as predictable as the tides that coastal Congressmen from both parties will band together to keep tax dollars flowing to their beaches.
Read more about beach nourishment and the report Washed Out to Sea here!