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President Bush makes Mississippi River restoration a national priority

February 7, 2005
By: Amy Souers Kober

In an acknowledgment of the broad benefits of a healthy Mississippi River, President Bush’s budget request for fiscal year 2006 names Mississippi River restoration as a top national priority.

The Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2006 requests full funding at $34 million for the Environmental Management Program, the primary habitat restoration program for the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and seeks $20 million for efforts to restore Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands.

“This request should serve as a wake up call for Congress who last year provided a meager sum for Mississippi River restoration,” said Scott Faber of Environmental Defense. “Full funding is critical.”

Congress provided $17.5 million for FY 2005 for the Environmental Management Program, which finances the construction of habitat restoration projects and long-term monitoring, after the Administration requested $28 million. Congress provided $18 million for the program in FY 2004.

Scientists say that river habitat is disappearing faster than its can be replaced through programs like the EMP, which is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As habitat vanishes, many species will decline and some species will disappear, scientists warn. More than 500 square miles of coastal wetlands will be lost by 2050 if nothing is done, studies show.

“Far more than fish and wildlife is at stake,” said Brad Redlin of the Izaak Walton League of America. “Millions of commercial fishery, tourism, recreation, and agricultural jobs depend upon the health of river and its coastal delta. The river’s delta wetlands protect from hurricanes millions of people as well as the infrastructure that generates 20% of the nation’s energy supply.”

The Corps recently called for Congress to spend about $130 million a year on Upper Mississippi River habitat restoration efforts, and river lawmakers have proposed ambitious restoration plans.

But Congress has never appropriated as much money as current law allows. Congress raised the annual cap on EMP spending to $33.2 million in 1999, but actual spending peaked at $21 million in FY 2001.

Our nation relies on a healthy Mississippi River for commerce, recreation, drinking water, food supply, and power, among its many uses. Congress must appropriate the full amount requested by the Administration to ensure that the Mississippi River and its coastal delta can continue to meet our nation’s needs.


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