Chair Grijalva Highlights GAO Report He Requested Finding U.S. Coasts at Risk Without Fish & Wildlife Service Consultation on Dredging, Other Projects

March 10, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today highlighted new findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that a 2019 Trump administration order to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) not to consult with federal stakeholders on many coastal preservation projects has led to unjustified coastal damage, excessive dredging and other harmful consequences. The findings come in a report, which Grijalva requested and which GAO published today, titled Fish and Wildlife Service Should Better Ensure It Carries Out Required Consultation and Mapping Activities.

Under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), FWS is required to consult with other federal agencies before they undertake major projects that might impact or harm federally protected coastal zones. The agency frequently collaborates with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, before major dredging operations take place to ensure the preservation of important habitats, the maintenance of storm protection sites such as barrier islands, and the continued viability of other important environmental features.

Of 31 projects reviewed by GAO, FWS declined to provide consultation for 18 of them. The full report is available at http://bit.ly/2OKuyZS.

An Oct. 30, 2019, opinion from the Department’s Solicitor under then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt redefined FWS’ role under CBRA and ended decades of bipartisan agreement on the scope of interagency consultation efforts. The opinion greatly expanded FWS’ ability to grant exemptions to CBRA consultation requirements, which had already decreased under the Trump administration, as GAO found in today’s report.

As of August 2020, when GAO concluded its research for today’s report, the Army Corps of Engineers alone had more than 50 active projects in the Coastal Barrier Resources System, the network of sites governed by the CBRA. The new findings suggest that if the Trump-era guidance remains in place, FWS officials will likely not consult with the Army Corps on many of these projects before they’re completed, which could lead to significant damage to coastal resources and diminish some areas’ ability to withstand the effects of climate change. In the report, FWS declined to provide an opinion on activities like dredging, beach nourishment, and road repairs in CBRA units.

“We shouldn’t be dredging, digging and moving our coastlines without competent scientific analysis and consultation,” Grijalva said today. “The Trump administration didn’t care about what it damaged or how much taxpayer money it wasted, but the Biden administration knows better, and this report is a wakeup call to fix this sooner rather than later.”

Grijalva’s Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, which he first introduced in the 116th Congress and which he intends to reintroduce this year, includes measures to strengthen the CBRA and ensure that interagency consultation can no longer be weakened behind the scenes.

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