US proposes more wetlands protection


Washington, DC�The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers Thursday proposed a regulation that, if passed, would make it more difficult for oil and gas operators to conduct activity on US wetlands.

The proposed rule would change the definition of dredged materials to afford broader protection for wetlands. They said the proposed rule would close a loophole in Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations by clarifying the types of activities that can harm wetlands.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said, �Wetlands are essential to preserving clean and healthy water for all Americans. Unfortunately, due to a legal loophole that has been exploited, an additional 20,000 acres of wetlands have been lost in this country over the last 2 years.�

EPA said, since the late 1700s, more than half of the nation�s wetlands have been lost to development and other activities. Seven states have lost more than 80% of their original wetlands.

It explained, �Wetlands are a collective term for marshes, swamps, bogs, and similar wet land areas generally located between dry land and bodies of water. They are an invaluable part of the ecosystem, filtering and cleansing the nation�s waters, helping to retain flood waters, and harboring emerging fish and shellfish populations.

�Destruction of wetlands can increase flooding and runoff potential, harm neighboring property, cause stream and river pollution, and result in the loss of valuable habitat.�

One US operating company�HS Resources Inc.�was fined $700,000 this week for illegally destroying wetlands in Louisiana (OGJ Online, Aug. 10, 2000).

History
The proposed rule would broaden coverage of environmentally destructive earth-moving activities (such as mechanized land clearing, ditching, channelization, and in-stream mining) associated with draining wetlands.

EPA said, under CWA�s Sec. 404, the Corps issues permits after completing an environmental review of dredged material from proposed projects, including the potential adverse effects on wetlands.

�This permit program is designed to minimize the environmental impact on wetlands while also requiring offsetting actions, such as creating or restoring other wetlands.�

EPA and the corps ruled in August 1993 that permits were required for any discharges associated with draining wetlands. Trade associations challenged the action, and the US District Court in Washington, DC, overturned it in January 1997. The US Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in June 1998.

EPA said, as a result, certain forms of environmentally destructive activities have been unchecked.

�Since the 1997 district court decision, nearly 20,000 acres of wetlands have been destroyed and more than 150 miles of streams channeled without environmental review or mitigation,� EPA said.

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