AMERICAN RIVERS l EARTHJUSTICE l NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE
COUNCIL l NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION l SIERRA CLUB
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January
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)
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
· 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
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."