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GLIN==> Army Corps Waters Down Wetlands Protection



Posted on behalf of Bill Katakis <bkatakis@adelphia.net>

---
For Immediate Release: August 9, 2001
Contact: Liz Brinton
703/438-6089

Army Corps Waters Down Wetlands Protection
"Will Increase Home Building in Floodplains"

WASHINGTON, D.C. - New wetlands rules being proposed by the Bush
Administration "will increase home building in floodplains," Julie Sibbing,
National Wildlife Federation Legislative Representative, said here today.
The changes are contained in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed
reauthorization of the Nationwide Permit (NWP) program, that are scheduled
to be published today in the Federal Register.

"This proposal will lead to the construction of more homes and businesses
in floodplains, putting more lives and property at risk of flooding and
increasing taxpayer liability for federal disaster bailouts," Sibbing said.

  "Proposals like this that water down protections for wetlands and streams
just prolong the Corps' war on the environment."  The National Wildlife
Federation's 1998 report, Higher Ground, documents the repetitive loss
history of homes and businesses located in the nation's floodplains.

The proposed reauthorization of nationwide permits would eliminate
critically important restrictions on developers and would allow the
increased use of these essentially "rubber-stamp" permits to destroy
valuable wetlands and thousands of miles of streams, Sibbing said.  These
restrictions are necessary because the Clean Water Act authorizes the Corps
to issue nationwide permits only for activities that have minimal adverse
environmental effects individually or cumulatively. Historically, she
noted, the permits have been used to exclude public participation and
expedite development activities that degrade the nation's wetlands and
streams - a little at a time - with serious and long-lasting impacts to the
country's waters.

In recognition of the historic impact of the NWP program, major changes
were made to the permits just last year.  These changes were implemented
only after more than three years of consideration by the federal agencies,
including three public comment periods and more than 10,000 public
comments.  These changes reduced the amount of wetland area and stream
length that could be impacted under expedited nationwide permits and
imposed key restrictions on the use of most of these permits in 100 year
floodplains.

In addition, a requirement was made that wetlands destroyed under the NWPs
be replaced, or "mitigated" at a minimum of an acre for every acre
destroyed.  Streams remaining on development sites were to be protected by
vegetated buffers.

The current proposal for re-authorization of the permits, however,
eliminates the prohibition on the use of the expedited permits to build
houses, businesses and public facilities in floodplains.  Allowing the
construction of houses, businesses, schools, and hospitals in wetlands on
the 100 year floodplain, without individual review and an opportunity for
public comment, "is an invitation to disaster," Sibbing said.  "Not only
would we be putting people and property at risk by allowing  rubber-stamp
approval of floodplain development, we would reduce the storage capacity of
the floodplain even further, leading to greater downstream flooding and
associated losses of life and property."

The Corps' proposal also significantly rolls back protection for streams
by eliminating the prohibition on the use of NWPs for destruction of more
than 300 linear feet of streams - opting instead for a standard that would
entail a significant increase in the amount of stream length that could be
altered.

Another key weakening provision in the proposed NWP reauthorization is the
elimination of a requirement that those who destroy wetlands using these
permits replace those wetlands through mitigation of at least an acre for
every acre destroyed.  Instead the Corps proposes to allow developers to
plant trees along streams instead of replacing wetlands.   This type of
faulty mitigation was criticized in a report issued earlier this year by
the National Research Council (NRC).

The NRC report states that the country continues to lose wetlands at a
rapid pace, despite seemingly strict laws to "protect" these systems from
unnecessary destruction.

###

The nation's largest member-supported conservation advocacy and education
group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of
life to protect nature, wildlife, and the world we all share.  The
Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's
conservation tradition since 1936.



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