Bush backs wetland protection

President George Bush has announced his backing for the Environmental Protection Agency as a long running legal battle over the Clean Water Act affecting wetlands protection moved towards resolution.


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On 17 April, President George W. Bush announced that he supported the EPA in its plans to close a loophole in wetlands protection under the 1993 Clean Water Act (CWA), also supported by the Clinton Administration. The loophole relates to dredged material, dredging, disposal, and construction activities in navigable waters. Under Section 404 of the act, discharging dredged or fill material into wetlands and other waters requires a permit. However by using specialised dredging and disposal techniques, developers have avoided the need to acquire such permits.

In 1993, in an attempt to plug this loophole, the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is the permitting authority for dredged material excavation and disposal, issued a regulation known as the Tulloch Rule, revising the definition of ‘discharge of dredged material’. This was contested in court by the a group of organisations headed by the National Association of House Builders (NAHB), who sued the Corps of Engineers.

In 1997, the District Court of the District of Columbia ruled in favour of the NAHB and the decision was upheld in 1998 by the Court of Appeals. Since then, an estimated 20,000 wetland acres have been targeted for ditching, draining, and destruction and approximately 150 miles of streams channelled without environmental review or compensatory mitigation.

When the Clinton administration proposed revisions to the Tulloch Rule last year, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act cannot be used to stall the draining of isolated ponds and marshes that are not connected to ‘navigable waters’ (see related story).

Announcing the new rule, the White House Press Secretary said that the new rule would close the loophole and “provide much needed regulatory certainty by clarifying the kinds of activities that the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers believe may result in harmful discharges into our nation’s wetlands”. “Uncertainty regarding the scope of this decision is considered to be a contributor to the destruction of many wetlands,” it added.

“The Bush Administration is committed to keeping our waterways clean and safe,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “The protection of America’s vanishing wetlands is a vital step toward ensuring cleaner water for everyone. Today’s action will help preserve our wetlands for ourselves and for future generations.”

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