NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Aftermath Of Court's Wetlands Ruling

January 18, 1999

A federal district court decision in 1997 has made it easier for landowners, developers and miners to manage wetlands without having to apply to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit.

  • Government lawyers had argued that the five-year-old federal rule requiring a permit before draining wetlands was justified under the Clean Water Act.
  • But the court ruled that the act forbids the filling of wetlands -- but says nothing about draining them.
  • The district court ruling was upheld by an appeals court in July 1998 -- and the federal government has decided not to appeal again.
  • Before the wetlands rule was overturned, the Corps had rejected some applications for draining and dredging, while approving others.

Now freed from governmental red tape, developers and others are proceeding with draining or dredging in Virginia, California, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Landowners argue that federal wetlands laws are far too severe, and that the government's definition of what constituted a wetland was far too broad.

The definition had included land that was dry most of the year -- such as ponds or pools of water that exist only during the spring.

County flood control managers also are relieved at being able to dredge sediments out of flood control channels without having to apply for a permit.

Source: Traci Watson, "Ruling Allows Draining of Wetlands Without Permits," USA Today, January 18, 1999.


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