Enviros praise Bush budget on Army Corps' projects

Despite generally low marks from environmentalists on his fiscal 2004 budget, President Bush is receiving praise for backing a series of reforms to the Army Corps of Engineers sought by conservationists.

Bush's budget for the Army Corps puts him at odds with some key GOP senators, including Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who have backed water projects that both the president and environmentalists believe are wasteful. Environmentalists praised the administration's decision to zero out funding for two Mississippi projects-Yazoo Pump and Devils Lake. Both projects have long been favorites of their state delegations in Congress, which have worked successfully to include funding for the projects into appropriations bill over the last several years.

The budget does include $33 million in new funding for environmental projects on the upper Mississippi River. One key addition to the budget is a new requirement that Corps projects be independently reviewed before they are approved. Additionally, the White House included language in the budget requiring the Corps to pursue projects that have a "high net economic or environmental return to society" relative to their cost. Activists could use this language to argue the Corps should not fund controversial proposals.

Virtually all of the changes to the Corps' budget track closely with the recommendations of environmentalists, who for years have sparred with the agency over wetlands and other development projects. Cutting controversial projects out of the Corps' $4 billion budget prompted environmentalists to give the president rare praise this week.

Environmentalists have largely criticized the White House for cutting spending in key EPA and Interior Department programs while boosting funding for a controversial reform of the Clean Air Act known as the Clear Skies initiative.