Sen. Jim DeMint's proposal to establish a commission to manage the nation's water resources is, in part, an end-around run to try to get money for a study on dredging Charleston harbor. But that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 contained no money for the study on dredging the harbor to 50 feet. That is what would be needed to accommodate giant cargo ships that will start arriving in Atlantic ports in 2014 when the Panama Canal is widened.
The administration said one reason the $400,000 for the study was not included in the budget proposal was that South Carolina's congressional delegation wasn't united in seeking the funds. DeMint and Rep. Joe Wilson, both of whom have pledged not to seek earmarks for state projects, refused to sign a December letter asking for money for the study.
And rather than back down on his no-earmark stand, DeMint instead has introduced sweeping legislation to overhaul how the federal government chooses which harbor, bridge and water projects to fund. DeMint's bill would establish a Water Resources Commission that would review Army Corps of Engineers projects and set priorities based on critical national needs, not just on the political clout of state delegations.
The bill also would give states more flexibility in addressing their needs. It would return federal harbor-maintenance taxes to the states in the form of block grants and allow the states to allocate the money where most needed.
We think the South Carolina delegation should pursue every avenue to get funding for the port study, including an earmark if necessary. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is the chief co-sponsor of DeMint's bill, but he said he would seek other ways to get money for the study. One way would be to persuade the Corps of Engineers to act on its own to tap money already allocated in the budget for Charleston for fiscal year 2011 to get the study started.
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