The Army Is Encouraging States To Take Over Wetlands Permitting

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

The U.S. Army is relinquishing some permitting authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to speed up the time between permit applications and final decisions that can make or break proposed economic and infrastructure projects.

The Army issued a memorandum Tuesday beginning the process of turning over CWA Section 404 permitting authority to state and tribal governments.

Section 404 governs the release of dredge or fill materials produced from building and operating dams, highways or mines into rivers, lakes and wetlands. The regulation’s aim is to prevent discharge into waterways if a cleaner, practical alternative exists or if the action “significantly degrades” water systems.

“This action supports this administration’s dedication to infrastructure by providing states and tribes the clarity they need to better balance their environmental protection mission with their economic development goals,” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James said in a statement. “In my view, implementing Section 404 in this clear and decisive manner not only adheres to the language of the statute and the intent of Congress when enacting Section 404(g), but it is also in the overall best interest of the Army and the regulated public.”

The Army Corps of Engineers currently has Section 404 authority over all states except Michigan and New Jersey.

The memorandum transfers permitting authority but leaves the same federal standards in place to govern what projects qualify for approval. The Clean Water Rule, which grants the authority to define which bodies of water are protected as “waters of the U.S.,” also remains the same.

The Trump administration committed to repealing the Clean Water Rule on June 26. (RELATED: Trump’s EPA To Repeal Obama’s ‘Waters Of The US’ Rule)

Critics have complained that the Clean Water Rule is applied too broadly. The law applies to “navigable waters,” but the Army Corps of Engineers have applied the law to water systems such as vernal pools, temporary pools that only appear for part of the year. (RELATED: Feds Fine Farmer $2.8 Million For ‘Deep Ripping’ Of Farmland)

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