Senate unanimously passes Alexander 2-year ban on Corps fishing restrictions

WASHINGTON-Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced last week that the U.S. Senate passed his legislation that would immediately ban the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing fishing restrictions for two years, the second time in as many days senators have supported “the freedom to fish below publicly owned dams on the Cumberland River.”

The action had the unanimous support of the Senate, and it would stop the Corps from enacting any existing or new fishing restrictions for the next two years, while also delegating enforcement to state wildlife agencies. This legislation is separate from legislation the Senate passed Wednesday as part of the Water Resources Development Act, which would enact a permanent solution–as opposed to just two years–and also delegate enforcement to state agencies.

The legislation passed most recently by unanimous consent is likely to come up sooner in the U.S. House of Representatives than the House’s version of the Water Resources Development Act. Once passed, today’s legislation would enact a two-year ban while supporters await passage of the permanent solution in the House.

“The U.S. Senate continues to support the idea that we don’t need Big Brother in Washington holding the hands of fishermen in Tennessee and Kentucky or anywhere else,” Alexander said. “We’re getting closer to stopping these unreasonable fishing restrictions, showing the Corps that it can’t waste taxpayer dollars or continue to ignore elected representatives who are standing up for fishermen.”

The Corps is proceeding with its policy to permanently restrict access to tailwaters areas below 10 dams on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Corps did so despite the Senate’s unanimous support for an amendment to the budget resolution in March that would allow Congress to prohibit the Corps’ plans, as well as repeated requests for compromise from Alexander, numerous other elected officials and the state agencies that enforce boater safety requirements.

Alexander’s legislation originated from his “Freedom to Fish Act,” which is cosponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) has sponsored companion legislation in the House.

Alexander said on May 8 he would restrict Corps funding, in his role as the Ranking Member or lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, if the Corps did not abandon its plans. Alexander has also held numerous meetings with Corps officials in Washington and Tennessee, encouraging them to find a compromise.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin, an appointee of President Obama who until stepping down recently would have been responsible for defending the Corps in court, has said the Corps’ restrictions are unreasonable “in light of the tremendous protection from liability enjoyed by the Corps.” The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has also said it will not enforce the Corps’ restrictions.