The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1231es on Energy and Environment

November 4, 1998

November 4, 1998 | Executive Summary on Energy and Environment

BG1231es: Navitgating the American Heritage Rivers: WastingResources on Bureaucracy

Even if Clinton's American Heritage Rivers Initiative (AHRI) is not a federal land grab or a brazen attempt to exercise federal control over local land use and zoning decisions, it is nonetheless unconstitutional. Only Congress may adopt such programs. Until Congress enacts the AHRI, Clinton has no authority to act.

--William Perry Pendley,
Mountain States Legal Foundation

Even as many Americans continue to press Congress to downsize the federal government and return control of more programs to the states, President Bill Clinton has initiated a new program that will impose costly new federal involvement on the local zoning and planning process. During a ceremony at the New River in North Carolina last July, the President designated 14 rivers as "American Heritage Rivers" for 1998, targeting them for federal oversight. He did so under authority he gave himself by signing Executive Order 13061, the American Heritage Rivers Initiative (AHRI), on September 11, 1997.

The stated purpose of the President's initiative is to spur economic growth along designated rivers, protect their natural resources, and preserve their heritage. As attractive as these goals are, however, they duplicate many of the goals of currently available federal programs. In addition, the AHRI's unnecessary new level of federal bureaucracy could cost millions of tax dollars each year. It will divert funds away from the rivers and communities that are most in need and make it more difficult for state and local governments to decide how best to protect and enhance their rivers and river communities.

Although the American Heritage Rivers Initiative is an appealing program, it also has several important flaws:

  • It violates a number of constitutional and statutory provisions by giving the executive branch powers that belong to Congress, such as authority over interstate commerce and the appropriation of money. It threatens the Fifth Amendment by giving federal bureaucrats control over private land surrounding the rivers and their associated resources, and the Tenth Amendment by pre-empting the states' land use and zoning powers.

  • It duplicates the functions of federal programs already available to assist states, localities, businesses, and individuals in improving America's waterways by protecting natural resources, rejuvenating surrounding areas, and stimulating economic growth. Many of these programs already duplicate each other's efforts and award similar grants.

  • Scientific analysis of need is not mandated as the basis for AHRI designation. Consequently, the AHRI allows the executive branch to target federal money to river communities in ways that could be interpreted more as political pork than environmental necessity. This potential is highlighted by the fact that not one of the ten "most endangered rivers" of 1998 as selected by the environmental interest group American Rivers appears on the President's 1998 list of American Heritage Rivers.

  • It establishes a new federal bureaucracy. Each of this year's 14 American Heritage Rivers will be assigned a "river navigator" to "guide" local officials through the maze of applicable federal programs. In other words, federal bureaucrats will be injected into local decision-making on how best to clean up a designated river, or develop or enhance its surrounding areas. Federal agencies make their field staff available for the local implementation of AHRI initiatives. It is not clear how creating additional bureaucracy facilitates the AHRI's goal of helping states maneuver through the current bureaucracy. Furthermore, the hiring of each river navigator will cost an estimated $100,000 a year, yet the question of where the funding will come from has not been adequately addressed.

If President Clinton wants to involve the states and local communities in protecting and rejuvenating America's rivers, he should focus on:

  1. Streamlining the hundreds of federal programs to eliminate duplication and waste by terminating obsolete, redundant, and dysfunctional programs and privatizing functions that could be performed more efficiently and cost-effectively in the private sector;

  2. Devolving to the states functions that are addressed more appropriately at that level; and

  3. Investing the money saved from this streamlining effort in the remaining programs, to target rivers and communities most in need of improvement.

Members of Congress who take a stand against bigger government should ensure that states maintain control over decisions that involve the land adjoining their rivers. They should study the current federal programs to determine the level of duplication and waste and how much is being spent already to achieve the President's goals as outlined in the AHRI initiative. And they should use their authority under the President's AHRI initiative to request that rivers and river sections in their districts be excluded from future consideration.

Instead of allocating limited federal resources to an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy, Congress should work to eliminate duplication in programs while ensuring that the federal government's efforts to protect and enhance the nation's rivers are clearly documented and truly achieving their goals.

Alexander F. Annett is a former Research Assistant in The Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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