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AMERICAN RIVERS l EARTHJUSTICE l NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL l  NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION l SIERRA CLUB

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                            January 14, 2002                                              

CONTACT:

Ken Goldman (EaJus) 202.667.4500 Wendy Balazik (Sierra Club) 202.675.2383 Melissa Samet (Am Rivers) 415.482.8150 Julie Sibbing (NWF) 202.797.6832  Daniel Rosenberg (NRDC) 202.289.2389

Bush Administration Weakens Important Clean Water Act Permitting Program Action Threatens Wetlands and Streams Throughout United States:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bush administration today threatened the nation's  wetlands and streams by weakening a key program under the Clean Water  Act.  The action overturns stricter environmental standards for the  nation's waters that were adopted in 2000 by the US Army Corps of  Engineers, and allows the continuation of activities that damage or  destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and miles of streams every year. 

At issue is the Clean Water Act's program for nationwide general  permits.  While the Clean Water Act allows the Corps to issue nationwide  general permits for activities that discharge fill or dredged material  into wetlands and streams, those permits may be issued only if the  activities will have no more than minimal adverse environmental effects,  both individually and cumulatively.  Activities performed under a  nationwide permit do not require public notice or comment, and they  undergo a much less stringent review, if any, by the Corps than do  individual permits.  Environmental groups charge that the Corps uses  these permits to allow extraordinarily destructive activities, including  mountaintop removal coal mining. 

"The Corps says that blowing up forested mountains and dumping massive  amounts of waste into streams has only a minimal adverse effect on the  environment, so I do not want to see what they would consider a major  impact," said Howard Fox, managing attorney for Earthjustice. 

After years of public comment and debate, the Clinton administration  issued new nationwide permits in March 2000 that ensured better  environmental protections than earlier permits.  The new nationwide  permits issued today allow the Corps to waive many of the environmental  conditions adopted in March 2000 that were meant to limit the use of  these permits, especially in floodplains and other environmentally  sensitive waters. 

"With today's decision, the Bush Administration is thumbing its nose at  Americans who want clean waters and to protect America's streams to keep  America beautiful," said Robin Mann of the Sierra Club.  "The Corps also  seems to have forgotten about the risks to people and property from  allowing wetlands filling in floodplain areas.  They have slackened the  floodplain restrictions adopted just two years ago."

"The new nationwide permits are illegal and irresponsible.  They  guarantee the widespread destruction of streams and wetlands and ensure  that the destruction will not be mitigated," said Melissa Samet, senior  director of water resources for American Rivers.

In the week leading up to Earth Day 2001, President Bush said that he  supported wetlands protections.  Yet, the Corps' new nationwide permits  will increase wetlands losses and stream destruction.

"I doubt the president's State of the Union Address this year will  highlight the increased water pollution, worsened flooding and loss of  wildlife habitat that we can expect from the new, weaker wetlands  policy," said Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with NRDC's Clean Water  Project. "Apparently last year's Earth Day pledge to protect wetlands  was really just a publicity stunt."

The changes included in the Corps' weakened nationwide permits include:

·           Allowing the Corps to waive the 300-foot limit on stream destruction  for intermittent streams, meaning a developer could dig or fill a mile  (or more) of a stream under a general permit that is only supposed to  allow minimal adverse effects  ·  Loosening restrictions on filling wetlands in floodplains   ·           Bypassing the minimum requirement that there be at least one acre of  wetlands protected or created for every acre destroyed (1:1 acreage  mitigation) ·     Waiving the subdivision acreage cap acre for commercial developments  like office parks and shopping centers, allowing each lot of a  commercial project to destroy ½ acre of wetlands or stream instead of  limiting the damage caused by the entire project to ½ acre

The new nationwide permit package also continues to allow coal mining  companies to bury and destroy hundreds of miles of streams with  mountaintop removal valley fills with virtually no limits or conditions.

The release of new nationwide permits follows closely on the heels of a  surprise announcement by the Corps in late October that weakened the  standards developers must follow to compensate for wetlands destruction.

"The Corps has unilaterally ignored the national goal of achieving 'no  net loss' of wetlands, a goal which has been the guiding principle of  the national wetlands regulatory program since the first Bush  Administration," said Julie Sibbing, wetlands legislative representative  with the National Wildlife Federation. Sibbing summed up this latest  Corps maneuver by saying "This arrogant move demonstrates the Corps'  complete lack of respect for our country's natural resources and is  another example of how this administration is turning its back on  protecting our nation's wetlands."

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