Study Finds AHRI Both Unnecessary and Unconstitutional

Published April 1, 1999

The American Heritage Rivers Initiative, which President Clinton says will promote economic growth along designated rivers and protect their heritage, in fact duplicates the efforts of existing federal programs and creates another level of bureaucracy.

It is also unconstitutional.

So writes Alexander F. Annett, author of “Navigating the American Heritage Rivers Initiative: Wasting Resources on Bureaucracy,” a policy brief from the Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation. Annett is a research assistant at the foundation’s Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

In legal terms, Annett argues, AHRI strips Congress of its authority to regulate interstate commerce and the appropriation of money, giving those powers to the executive branch. Moreover, he contends, the initiative violates the Fifth Amendment’s protections for private property ownership.

The AHRI also creates an opportunity for political favoritism, warns Annett, because scientific analysis–hard data on economic development or protections currently in place for a waterway’s natural resources or heritage–is not required for a river’s designation. Without such analysis, the AHRI permits the White House to direct federal money to river communities “in ways that could be interpreted more as political pork than environmental necessity.”

And although the White House continues to assure the public that no extra money will be needed for the initiative’s implementation, Annett wonders where the money will come from to pay the $100,000 salaries promised to 14 “river navigators” who will oversee the program’s implementation in each of the communities whose rivers received AHRI designation in 1998.

If the President is serious about involving local communities in protecting and rejuvenating America’s rivers, Annett recommends he work with Congress to:

  • Streamline the hundreds of federal programs that address waterway issues, eliminating duplication and waste by terminating obsolete, redundant, and dysfunctional programs.
  • Invest funds saved through the streamlining effort in the remaining programs, to target rivers and communities most in need of improvement.
  • Allow the states to handle those functions best addressed at that level.

“Instead of allocating limited federal resources to an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy,” Annett writes, “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.”