Democrats seek quick replacement of top Army Corps officials

Letter alleges current leadership is too closely aligned with corporate interests.

Eleven Senate Democrats have called on President Obama to quickly replace the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers in the latest move in an increasingly nasty spat centered on accusations that Corps leaders have cozy business relations that undermine federal wetlands protection.

The Democrats -- including Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. -- sent a letter Wednesday to Obama asking for the speedy ousting of Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley Jr.

In the letter, which does not refer to Woodley by name, the senators cite a report from Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure panels in alleging that "the current Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works 'placed the interests of corporate lobbyists over the scientific determinations of career staff ...' in several decisions regarding Clean Water Act protections."

This includes Woodley's role in producing a dual Environmental Protection Agency-Army Corps document in December intended to clarify an earlier 2007 memo that itself was meant to clear up a muddled Supreme Court ruling in 2006 regarding federal wetlands protection.

Democrats and environmental groups have charged the revised guidance provides less protection and is more confusing than the memo it replaced.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Woodley called the House Democrats' report "false, malicious, fraudulent and a tissue of lies." The report "is the product of a review of some 40- or 50,000 pages out of which a small number are taken out of context, misinterpreted, misapplied in order to create a fictional story," he said. "No lobbyist ever asked me to do anything in this case."

Woodley sided with Democrats in hoping to be replaced soon.

"I need to be getting on with the rest of my career," he said. But "I do not believe it is necessary in that context for these people to attack me personally."

He said while he is "personally offended," he does not believe the accusations by the Democrats will harm the rest of his career. "I think people will consider the source and will have no particular impact on me," he said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., issued a statement praising the senators for joining the effort to "expeditiously" replace Woodley and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Dunlop.

"Based on the actions of these two individuals during their service with the Corps, it would be far better to allow a career civil servant to serve as an interim, acting-assistant secretary, rather than allow either Secretary Woodley or Deputy Assistant Secretary Dunlop to remain in control of the construction and regulatory authorities of the agency," Oberstar said.

Oberstar and the senators also say Woodley has been lax in implementing reforms included in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act.