White House to Relax Some Environmental Regulations
By CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS
The New York Times
January 21, 2002
The Bush administration announced today that it would
ease some Clinton administration regulations covering
wetlands and streams, saying the changes would reduce
WASHINGTON, The Bush administration announced that it would
ease some Clinton administration regulations covering wetlands
and streams, saying the changes would reduce unnecessary
John Studt, chief of the regulatory branch of the Army
Corps of Engineers, said the revisions "will do a better
job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying
some administrative burdens for the regulated public."
The steps outlined today by the Army Corps angered environmental
advocates, who accused the administration of capitulating
to the interests of developers and miners and jeopardizing
ecologically sensitive areas.
The new rules would streamline the approval of certain
development projects by giving more of them a green light
under a general nationwide permit. That permit authorizes
a developer to proceed and avoid levels of scrutiny by
the public and federal agencies responsible for resource
management if the project is said to have minimal impact
on the environment.
Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, said the Army
Corps, which is completing a five-year updating of its
permit criteria, continues to embrace a policy that requires
developers to replace or set aside wetlands to offset
their projects. The policy that there should be "no net
loss" of wetlands was enunciated in 1989 by President
George Bush and has been embraced by his son.
"The president is fully committed to the `no net loss
of wetlands' policy that was reaffirmed today by the Army
Corps of Engineers," Mr. McClellan said.
He noted that last week Mr. Bush committed the federal
government to co-finance an $8 billion plan to restore
the Florida Everglades.
Under the changes announced today, developers will not
be required to provide a one-for-one replacement for the
acreage affected by individual wetlands projects, as long
as that goal is met in the broader region.
Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps is responsible
for granting permits to anyone who seeks to drain or fill
wetlands or streams. Wetlands are viewed as an important
filter to the water supply, a rich habitat for plants
and animals and a valuable release site for flood waters.
In March 2000, the Clinton administration increased restrictions
under the general permit program affecting wetlands, limiting
the amount of stream bed that may be disrupted without
closer review and demanding closer scrutiny of activities
in flood plains.
Those revisions are rolled back under the new approach.
The Army Corps makes a new distinction between perennial
and intermittent streams and relaxes rules on filling
streams that do not flow year-round. It eliminates some
restrictions on flood-plain development and gives local
officials greater authority to approve surface mining
Environmental groups said the administration, under pressure
from home builders and coal miners, was reducing its oversight
role in the name of slashing bureaucracy.
"It seems like the folks who are dredging and filling
in the wetlands have more friends than they used to,"
said Howard Fox, the managing attorney of Earthjustice,
an environmental law firm.
Julie Sibbing, the wetlands lobbyist for the National
Wildlife Federation, said the Army Corps had forsaken
the goal of achieving no net loss of wetlands.
"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," Ms. Sibbing