U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today (May 21) announced that the U.S. House of Representatives passed his Senate legislation which includes an immediate two-year ban to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting fishing below dams on the Cumberland River. The president has 10 days from the day he receives the legislation to act upon it, before it becomes law.
“When the president signs this legislation, this will end the discussion,” Alexander said. “Both chambers of the United States Congress have now told the Corps to immediately abandon its unreasonable efforts to restrict fishing and work with state agencies on a sensible policy to address safety concerns, instead of wasting taxpayer dollars and ignoring elected officials who are standing up for fishermen.”
The legislation that passed the House today – and received unanimous Senate support on May 16 – would stop the Corps from enacting any existing or new fishing restrictions for the next two years, while also delegating enforcement to state wildlife agencies.
The Senate has also passed Alexander’s permanent solution to stop the Corps as part of the Water Resources Development Act on May 15, as opposed to just a two-year ban. That legislation would delegate enforcement to state wildlife agencies, and require the Corps to stop taking any further action until it has re-evaluated its plans. The House has not yet taken up its version of the Water Resources Development Act, which Alexander said made it necessary to pass a two-year ban in the meantime.
The Corps has proceeded with its fishing restrictions despite the Senate’s unanimous support for an amendment to the budget resolution in March that would allow Congress to prohibit the Corps’ plans, as well as repeated requests for compromise from Alexander, numerous other elected officials and the state agencies that enforce boater safety requirements. Alexander has said the Corps should look for better ways to keep fishermen safe when water is actually spilling through the dams, which is about 20 percent of the time on average.
A similar version of the Senate legislation that the House passed today was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.). Alexander’s legislation originated from his “Freedom to Fish Act,” which is cosponsored by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). U.S. Rep. Whitfield has also sponsored a companion to that legislation in the House.
Alexander said on May 8 he would restrict Corps funding, in his role as the Ranking Member or lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, if the Corps did not abandon its plans. Alexander has also held numerous meetings with Corps officials in Washington and Tennessee, encouraging them to find a compromise.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin, an appointee of President Obama who until stepping down recently would have been responsible for defending the Corps in court, has said the Corps’ restrictions are unreasonable “in light of the tremendous protection from liability enjoyed by the Corps.” The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has also said it will not enforce the Corps’ restrictions.