New Rules Issued on Use of Wetlands

New Army Corps of Engineers rules revoke some Clinton-era requirements

Developers no longer will have to restore or create new wetlands for every acre they drain or fill under new regulations issued by the Bush administration.

The new Army Corps of Engineers rules that revoke some Clinton-era requirements also will enable developers to win speedy government approval for draining and filling permits under the Clean Water Act if the effect on streams or marshes is minimal.

Instead of requiring acre-for-acre restoration on each project, the new regulations require only that there be ''no net loss'' of wetlands in any of the Corps' 38 US districts, which are established on the basis of watersheds rather than state boundaries.

John Studt, chief of the Corps' regulatory branch, said the new permit requirements ''will do a better job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying some administrative burdens for the regulated public.''

Left alone was a Clinton-era requirement that developers get a permit for any project involving more than a half-acre of wetlands. Until 2000, developers had to get government approval only if more than three acres of wetlands were affected.

The new regulations also eliminate some restrictions on development in flood plains and revoke a prohibition on filling more than 300 linear feet along any stream.

Julie Sibbing, a wetlands expert for the National Wildlife Federation, said the new regulations will allow more wetland areas to be paved over. ''These permits certainly signal the end of `no net loss' as a policy of the United States,'' she said.

Susan Asmus, a vice president of the National Association of Home Builders, described the new permits as a positive step.

''This is the first time in the 25 years of the program that the Corps has not added further limitations or more paperwork requirements,'' she said.

However, Asmus said her group will continue to press its lawsuit challenging Corps wetlands regulations. She said they still don't streamline the process enough.

The regulations were adopted without any formal comment from the Interior Department. The Fish and Wildlife Service had objected to several of the measures, but the objections were never forwarded.

Instead, Interior Secretary Gale Norton sent word that she supported the new plan, said Mark Pfeifle, a spokesman for the department.

The Fish and Wildlife Service complained in an Oct. 15 memo that the ecological effects of the changes had not been assessed adequately.


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