President Carter yesterday continued his tactical retreat from a fight with Congress over federal water projects.
The White House announced the results of the President's study of 30 projects he originally picked for possible termination. Eight will be recommended to the Congress for full funding in fiscal 1978; seventeen will be suggested for termination in that year; five others will be proposed for reduced funding and modification in construction in 1978.
White House aide Stuart Eizenstat said yesterday that on the 17 projects the President would not move to halt construction under way or planned with already approved fiscal 1977 money.
A presidential move to impound already approved 1977 funds would have to go to Congress where one house could overrule it. Last month the Senate by 64 to 25 said it would vote against any such impoundment move.
The President also backed away from his statement last Friday that he could publish with his decision on the 30 projects "a very strict list of criteria in the future for approval of projects."
Yesterday, Carter said in a statement such a criteria list would be prepared in consultation with Congress. According to Capitol Hill aides, criteria are already contained in public works laws and any changes desired by Carter would have to be approved by Congress.
Carter's statement set out general water project policy areas in which he said, five times in an eight-page message, that he "will work with Congress to develop."
The President said he wanted to work out "a system to recoup the costs" of federally financed waterways so that "the beneficiaries . . . pay their fair share of both construction and operating costs."
Carter also called for "a realistic assessment of both economic and environmental costs and benefits" of all water projects.
The White House over the weekend had circulated among members of Congress the results of the study of the 30 projects. Hill observers yesterday were quick to point out that the President had yielded on some major projects with economic and environmental problems that were the favor- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
The $905 million Red River Waterway in Louisiana was also fully reinstated. Its economics were questioned but Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) of the Senate Finance Committee had made known to Carter did direct concern for that project.
Capitol Hill aides questioned whether Carter will be able to get Congress to go along on most of his 22 termination and modification suggestions.
The Georgia and South Carolina delegations, for example, will push for continued funding of the $248 million Richard B. Russell Dam - a project that Carter had supported while he was Georgia's governor.
Congressional aides said, however, that Carter stood a chance of getting support for several of his proposals.
"A lot of the 17 marked for termination are not in construction," one Senate aide said yesterday, "and none of them have any main dam work under contract."
He noted that the $5.4 million La-Farge Lake in Wisconsin that Carter had recommendated be terminated was halted two years ago when it lost the support of the state's two U.S. senators and its governor.
Another project listed for cancellation by Carter, the $31.6 million Lukfata Lake in Oklahoma had been pushed by former House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.) and never had Senate support. It, too, might now be a candidate for congressionally approved termination since Albert is gone and only $200,000 is sought in fiscal 1978.
The $88.5 million Cache Basin project in Arkansas may also be voted down by Congress as Carter has suggested. Chairman John McClellan (D-Ark.) of the Senate Appropriations Committee was an original proponent of the project. He had cooled on it recently, according to aides. With Carter's reinstatement of the $270 million tensas Basin, another Arkansas project on the "hit list," McClellan and others in his delegation may let Cache Basin go.
When White House aide Eisenstat was asked whether the President would veto a fiscal 1978 public works appropriations bill that contained projects Carter listed for cancellation, the answer was, "We don't want to cross any bridges until we get to the lake."
Along with the 30 Army Corps of Engineer and Bureau of Reclamation projects, the Carter study looked at two Tennessee Valley Authority dams and recommended one be funded and the other terminated.