The Army Corps of Engineers is facing criticism from three powerful GOP senators, including the Senate minority leader, over a parochial concern about fishing.
As a result of the dispute, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee plans to push the "Freedom to Fish" Act when the Senate returns next week, with the backing of Kentuckians Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
“This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an unreasonable interference with the right to fish below the dams the public owns,” Alexander said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We will therefore move ahead in the U.S. Senate next week with legislation to ensure the freedom of Americans to fish in these waters at times that the state wildlife agencies believe is consistent with reasonable efforts to ensure public safety.”
The legislative timing couldn't be more perfect for the three GOP senators to highlight the issue. The Senate's scheduled to start work on a water resources bill, which could be an ideal vehicle for trying to attach "Freedom to Fish."
The disagreement stems from an Army Corps of Engineers decision to limit fishing access to the waters of the Cumberland River, which runs through Tennessee and Kentucky.
"Blocking fishing access to the tailwaters of Lake Barkley and Wolf Creek will not only rob fishermen of a beloved pastime, it will also impair tourism in the area and depress the Kentucky economy," McConnell wrote in an opinion piece Thursday.
"Instead of imposing burdensome federal regulations, which this administration believes is the solution to everything, I believe the Corps should work with the people of western Kentucky — not against them — on alternative proposals that ensure safety, but still allow anglers access to the waters they have safely fished for years, McConnell added.
Alexander also has a particular ability to make life difficult for the Army Corps, since he serves as the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, where the agency gets its money.