Franken has meeting with interior secretary
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Al Franken continued Thursday to push for full funding of the Lewis & Clark Water Project, convening a meeting with a bipartisan delegation of legislators, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and others.
Minnesota's Franken, a first-term Democrat, has been advocating for full funding of the water project since his election in 2008. Most recently, he met in September with Lewis & Clark project officials in South Dakota to receive a progress update, and on Thursday he again relayed in Washington the need for further federal investment in the water system.
"The current funding level is ridiculous; it's enough to maybe keep the administration of the project going," Franken said during a telephone call to the Daily Globe. "I underline the fact that this is an economic development project. If we're going to increase job opportunities and increase economic development, we have to have enough water."
President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal year 2012 included just $493,000 for Lewis & Clark. Franken said in March that if the project continued to receive $10 million in annual federal funding, it would be done by 2048, adding that he had asked for $35-million-a-year funding that would fast-forward the completion to 2018.
Franken said Thursday's meeting discussed the establishment of criteria for funding of projects such as Lewis & Clark.
"It's criteria that will be considered for the funding process," he explained. "Since the administration is strapped for cash ... one of the criteria is what percentage has been paid."
Franken noted that participating states and communities have paid their share of the project that was articulated in Lewis & Clark's authorization by Congress. Therefore, Lewis & Clark would rate high for federal funding under the new criteria, he said.
Another consideration would be the percentage of the project that is completed, Franken said, while another would be the percentage of people served.
There's a possibility of a floor vote on energy and water appropriations next week, Franken said, noting that the level of support for rural water projects is significantly higher in the Senate than the House.
"The top priority in Washington needs to be job creation, and the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System would create jobs and spur economic development in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota," Franken said.
Also attending Thursday's meeting were Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Iowa U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, and South Dakota Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune, as well as U.S. Reps. Tim Walz (DFL-Minnesota), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.).