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HR 3267 -- 07/15/98

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July 15, 1998

H.R. 3267 - Sonny Bono Memorial Salton Sea Reclamation Act
(Rep. Hunter (R) CA)

The Administration appreciates Congress' commitment to address the serious problems facing the Salton Sea. Although the Administration endorses the concept of restoring the Salton Sea, it strongly opposes H.R. 3267. The Administration has worked and will continue to work with the Congress to develop legislation that we can support. However, the amended bill contains certain provisions that would compromise the Government's ability to develop a cost-effective, environmentally sensitive restoration for the Salton Sea ecosystem. Some of the bill's provisions also raise significant constitutional issues as described below.

The Salton Sea ecosystem is under severe stress. Although it currently functions as the permanent home for a number of wildlife and fish species and as an important stop for thousands of migratory birds, its increasing salinity, combined with other contaminants in the ecosystem, are harming much of this wildlife. In recent years, there have been a significant number of serious bird and fish kills at the Sea. In addition, the Sea's value as a recreational resource has declined.

As a result of the Administration's concern about the situation, the Secretary of the Interior has initiated an open review process under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to identify and evaluate the potential options for the Salton Sea on an expedited schedule.

The Secretary has also been working with leaders from the State of California, the Salton Sea Authority, the Torrez-Martinez Tribe, and the local area to coordinate and focus research and funding related to the Sea's restoration. As part of these intergovernmental efforts, a Science Subcommittee has been formed to address scientific issues related to the Sea.

H.R. 3267 is inconsistent, as described below, with the principles that the Administration believes should underlie the Salton Sea restoration effort.

  • Preauthorization of Project Construction. H.R. 3267 would authorize $350 million to construct an as yet unidentified remedy that would be selected following the completion of the NEPA review process. The Administration believes that this type of authorization is premature and would, instead, favor legislation that authorizes and appropriates funding for scoping and feasibility studies.

  • Funding Mechanisms. H.R. 3267 would authorize construction funds to be appropriated jointly to the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of the Interior to fund a Department of the Interior project. In addition, H.R. 3267 would allow funding for the project to be derived from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Administration opposes this type of funding scheme and the unprecedented use of LWCF funds for water projects.

  • Cost Sharing. H.R. 3267 would exempt irrigators from cost sharing responsibilities for project implementation. In addition, the Federal government would be required to assume all costs associated with NEPA compliance, feasibility studies, and research. The Administration believes that it is premature to exempt any parties from cost sharing requirements.

  • Limitations on Liability. H.R. 3267 would include broad limitations on liability for the local water and irrigation districts, the Salton Sea Authority, and the San Diego Water Authority for any actions taken under the bill. This would have the effect of transferring all liability to the Federal government. The Administration objects to exposing the Federal government to extensive liability for virtually all actions associated with the Salton Sea.

  • Clean Water Act (CWA) Exemption. The bill would exempt certain activities from CWA requirements. The Administration supports the enforcement of all environmental laws designed to protect the health and safety of the American people, and opposes such an exemption.

  • Congressional Review. The bill would require the Secretary to submit the Salton Sea feasibility study to certain congressional committees and make initiation of project construction contingent on approval by these committees. The Department of Justice advises that provisions granting congressional committees the authority to approve or disapprove Executive actions without the enactment of legislation would be unconstitutional.

The Administration prefers the approach taken in the proposed Miller substitute which would authorize a study of options to restore the Salton Sea, and then require the Secretary, in part, to submit a report on the recommendations of the study. The Miller substitute would require action on the part of the Secretary without assuming or providing funding for undefined and costly construction. The Administration would support the Miller substitute.

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