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March 20, 2008

GOP Congressman backs House Dems' stream bill

Backed up by Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset, House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook outlined his bill Thursday that would change the way Kentucky communities clean up their water ways.

Adkins' bill, which passed unanimously out of the House Natural Resources Committee, would create local authorities that would select water restoration and cleanup projects -- decisions currently handled by either the U.S. Corps of Engineers or the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

By creating the authorities, the legislation can also help pool more money and leverage additional grants from programs such as PRIDE, the Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment program created by Rogers in 1997.

"We're not trying to divert funds. We're trying to combine funds," Adkins said.

Developers, road builders, coal companies and other companies that disturb waterways or cause excessive runoff that pollutes streams and rivers must pay what are called mitigation fees for the U.S. Corps of Engineers or Fish and Wildlife to manage clean-up. In some cases the local authorities could seek the Corps of Engineers' permission to manage such a project, according to the legislation.

Some lawmakers and stakeholder groups had expressed concerns last week when Adkins first presented his proposal, House Bill 717. Most of the concern stemmed from some regulatory control that the authorities would have been given. But Adkins revised the bill to take those powers out.

Rogers said Adkins' proposal comes at a key time with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and EPA currently discussing changing its rules governing the water cleanup process. He said taking such action as Adkins' bill will at least show the federal government what the state is trying to do to keep control in local communities' hands.

"I think it would have a positive impact," Rogers said.

- Ryan Alessi

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This is an incredibly weak bill with no real hope of reducing damage to streams...

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