Four Republican members of Missouri's congressional delegation contend the federal government should put less attention on wildlife preservation when making decisions about the Missouri River.
Their proposal would strip "fish and wildlife" from the list of eight authorized purposes for which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can undertake a river management project. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves said in a news release that doing so would allow the corps to focus on navigation and flood management.
The corps has said previously that environmental spending is required and that it doesn't reduce spending for other purposes.
The issue gained attention after the massive flooding of 2011, which began after the corps began releasing large amounts of water from upstream reservoirs that had been filled with melting snow and heavy rains. The onslaught lasted for more than 100 days, busting levees, carving gouges in farmland and dumping debris on fields.
"The Corps should not have to waste precious resources on building wildlife habitats, a duty they are not suited for and should not have to fulfill," Graves said in the release. "Our bill will help reduce the likelihood of future flooding, which our families, farmers, and small businesses deserve."
Tom Ball of the Sierra Club called the legislation, which was introduced Wednesday, a "terrible idea." He said the corps has a legal obligation to mitigate the negative effects caused by damming the Missouri River and narrowing its channel.
While changes to the river aided navigation and improved flood protection, the number of pallid sturgeon, piping plover and interior least tern have shrunk so much they are now listed under the Endangered Species Act. The corps is taking several steps to help the species, including recreating thousands of acres of shallow water habitat along the river.
Ball also said that proponents of the legislation are misrepresenting the cause of the 2011 flooding by suggesting that fish and wildlife projects were diverting attention away from flood control.
"The 2011 flood was not caused by two birds and a fish," he said. "What caused it was we had unprecedented historical snowfall in April in the Rocky Mountains, followed by historic rainfall in April and May. And the system, as constructed, couldn't accommodate all that water. There was no way to predict it and the Army Corps of Engineers did what they could."
But U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, who also signed onto the legislation, weren't sold.
"While preserving wildlife habitat is important, we cannot allow these narrow interests to take precedence over the lives and activities of farmers, businesses, and residents on or near the river," Hartzler said in the news release. "The wellbeing of our citizens must be government's top priority."