U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Established in 1775, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (otherwise known as the corps) is the world's largest public, engineering, design, and construction management agency. The corps obtains its authority from the secretary of the army and is a division serving the chief of engineers within the Department of the Army. Funded by Congress, the corps' primary responsibilities include the management and execution of civil works programs in or adjacent to the nation's waterways (e.g., rivers, harbors, and wetlands), administration of environmental laws to protect and preserve these waterways, and the review of applications and issuance of permits for proposed projects affecting such bodies of water. As part of its responsibility, the corps assesses the consequences of proposed activities on water bodies, balancing environmental and developmental need and concerns. This often brings environmental and business groups into conflict such as in the case of dredging. Environmental groups oppose dredging due to its adverse effects on aquatic species whereas industry asserts that such dredging reduces the costs of river transportation by allowing larger ships to pass through waterways with fuller cargo loads. The corps reviews and issues permits under the Clean Water Act or Rivers and Harbor Act, ensuring that proposed activities do not adversely affect or impede U.S. waterways. Under the Clean Water Act, the corps primarily issues permits for the discharge of excavated material or fill, whereas under the Rivers and Harbor Act, the agency issues permits for the construction of structures such as bridges, dams, dikes, or causeways. With respect to both laws, the corps considers reasonable and alternative locations and methods for a proposed project, potential effects on private and public uses, and the need for a specified project. During the past several years, however, senators have introduced legislation such as the Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002, in an effort to reform the corps' project review and authorization procedures. These procedures have been criticized for allowing a number of projects to go forward that have had few economic benefits and high environmental costs. Agencies similar in purpose to the corps exist in countries such as Australia, Britain, and Canada, but they function on a much smaller scale in comparison.


National Research Council, Committee to Assess the U.S. Army Corps of Water Resources Planning Procedures. (1999). New Directions in Water Resources Planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Internet Resource

Services for the Public. Available at http://www.usace.army.mil/public.html #environmental.

Robert F. Gruenig

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