July 14, 2021
Today, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at an EPW hearing on the nomination of Michael Connor to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Witnesses included: Michael Connor, nominee to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Department of the Army.
Inhofe: Thank you very much.
First of all, let me talk a little bit to Shari and Gabby. Don’t worry about things today; this guy received a hundred percent vote in confirmation in the past. Not many people can say that, alright? It’s one we’ve worked with very close together.
There are three issues, actually two of them are going to be asking for commitments, which I think should come, but I just want to make sure that it’s on record. The first one deals with the WOTUS rule. Senator Capito had some concerns; I share those concerns. I was very disappointed, but not surprised, that the EPA and the Army Corps have decided to repeal and replace the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule. You know, that’s not the end of it. We know what happens when we change administrations; we know the likelihood is going to happen. The Obama-era WOTUS Rule was the number one regulatory issue facing farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma. We are a farm state in Oklahoma; their number one concern. Essentially, what the WOTUS rule did was take away from the states and give to the federal government that jurisdiction. My people in Oklahoma, my farmers in Oklahoma, did not think that was a good idea. That is still something that is taking place, and we are not sure how it’s going to end up, and if so, that will be lasting end, in my opinion.
Now, in June, the EPA released a statement saying EPA and the Army Corps determined the Trump-era rule is leading to significant environmental degradation. Significant environmental degradation. I know you are not currently at the Corps, are you aware of any specific and significant environmental degradation tied to the Trump Rule?
Connor: Senator, I am not aware of any specific circumstances right now.
Inhofe: Yeah, and I am not either. If you feel one coming on, will you let me know?
Secondly, we have a levee system in my home city of Tulsa. It was built in the 1940s; it’s survived. We had a real close call two years ago. I think you are probably familiar with that; it did get attention all over the nation. We are concerned about that. WRDA 2020 authorized this project. This was built in the 1940s, and it must be modernized to fully protect the $2.2 billion in homes and business infrastructure along the Arkansas River, including two refineries. I showed you and your staff these refineries. This was authorized by WRDA 2020, you all are familiar with that. It had joint jurisdiction between two committees. It authorized this project, and I submitted a congressional directed spending request to expedite design work so this project remains on the fast track. My first ask of you is that, will you commit to ensuring this project remains a priority for the Corps?
Connor: Yes, Senator. You have my commitment. My understanding is that it got a significant amount of resources in the FY2022 budget, so I would like to continue the efforts of working with you.
Inhofe: I appreciate that, and I anticipated that that would be the case.
The last thing I want to mention is the MKARNS. Recently, the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, recently made the decision that the MKARNS 12-foot deepening project does not require a new investment decision for the purpose of dedicating funds for construction. Now, that was a major thing. It was very meaningful thing for Senator Boozman, myself and to a number of others. Deepening the MKARNS to 12 feet, keeping in mind that the entire channel would be 9 feet, now changing it a very small amount to a 12 feet channel that’ll increase the load, the capacity by some forty percent. It’s a huge thing there. Deepening that is now, pretty much accepted to everyone, and I just want to make sure that you don’t have any plans or any knowledge of anything that would come along and change that at this time. I ask you that you would commit to following this decision. The decision that it does not require a new investment decision for the purpose of dedicating funds for construction. So will you commit to following that decision?
Connor: I am committed to following the decision. I am not aware of anything that would change that approach.
Inhofe: That’s fine. I look forward to working with you.
Connor: Thank you, Senator.