NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Administration's New Wetlands Guidelines in Trouble

February 26, 2003

Neither environmentalists nor developers are satisfied with the direction the Bush administration is taking on wetlands policy. Not surprisingly, their objections spring from different reasons.

In January 2003 by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly issued guidelines regarding federal wetlands jurisdiction in response to a 2001 Supreme Court decision that limited the federal government's authority to regulate so-called isolated wetlands just because migratory birds use them. Isolated wetlands are those that don't cross state lines and aren't navigable.

The new guidelines -- which are essentially a stopgap measure -- involve the agencies asking whether isolated wetlands should be stripped of federal protection in light of the Supreme Court's decision, which only affected wetlands used by migratory birds.

The guidelines require Army Corps field staff to seek Washington approval before asserting jurisdiction over isolated wetlands. Both sides are unhappy with the proposal:

  • Environmentalists say the new guidelines could pave the way for development of about 20 percent of the nation's 100 million acres of protected wetlands.
  • Developers complain that the guidelines don't sufficiently address what constitutes a federally protected wetland -- and therefore don't help clarify an array of existing wetlands regulations.

The agencies have extended the period for public comment to April 16, following receipt of more than 30,000 comments.

Source: Ray A. Smith, "New Guidelines Stir Debate on Wetlands," Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2003.

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