Washington, DC --The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers economic study to justify a massive public works project does not meet legal standards and must be withdrawn, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal district court by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The PEER suit contends that the Corps is using biased economic models in violation of the Data Quality Act to support building bigger new locks throughout the entire Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway system.
The Data Quality Act requires each federal agency to ensure "the quality, objectivity and integrity of information" it disseminates to the public. On August 20, 2003, PEER filed a complaint that the Corps is relying upon non-reviewed, proprietary economic models that were not objective. The Corps failed to respond to PEER's complaint and offers no avenue of appeal, thus necessitating a lawsuit.
PEER's suit is the latest blow to the scandal-plagued and oft-delayed plans for an estimated $2.5 billion in new construction to accommodate barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway. In 2000, the Corps economist for the project, Dr. Donald Sweeney, filed a whistleblower disclosure saying top commanders had altered key numbers in an effort to "cook the books" so that the project would appear justified. A Pentagon investigation upheld the whistleblower and two generals were disciplined.
In the wake of that scandal, the Corps announced a "restructured" study. But at the heart of the restructured study are economic models that have previously been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences and President Bush's Office of Management and Budget.
"The Upper Mississippi lock expansion is a case of twice cooked pork," stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer who filed the suit. PEER also represented Dr. Sweeney, the Corps economist who blew the whistle on the original study. "The economic models the Corps insists on using are more than thirty years old and are designed to support the economic necessity of every project no matter how ludicrous."
Later this week, top Bush Administration officials are meeting to decide the fate of the Upper Mississippi plan – a project that would be second in size only to the Everglades Restoration in the Corps budget.
Read PEER's lawsuit against the Corps
See the PEER complaint filed in August on Data Quality Act violations by the Corps
Examine the July 2003 Status Report, Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System Navigation Study, published August 7, 2003 by the Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers