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Government Responds to NRDC Lawsuit, Sets New Limits On Wetlands Destruction
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 6, 2000) - In response to a settlement between the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Army Corps of Engineers, the Clinton administration today will announce new permits to protect thousands of acres of wetlands from development. The Corps now will require individual permits for most projects that fill in a half-acre of wetlands or more.
The new permits will replace what was called "Nationwide Permit 26," which served as a virtual rubber stamp for construction projects. According to Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney for NRDC's Clean Water Project, Nationwide Permit 26 "was a weapon of mass wetlands destruction, enabling developers to destroy thousands of acres of wetlands without public input or adequate Corps oversight. The result has been increased flooding, degraded water quality and loss of habitat for birds, fish and other species. Eliminating the permit will help to bring the Corps' wetlands program in line with the Clean Water Act. This is a major victory for NRDC and the environment."
Several federal agencies regulate wetlands, but the Army Corps of Engineers has primary responsibility for approving projects. Prior to December 1996, the Corps approved projects affecting less than 10 acres of wetlands under Nationwide Permit 26. In January 1997, the Corps reduced the upper limit to three acres, but that still destroyed as many as 20,000 acres of wetlands annually, according to NRDC.
The new restrictions, however, do not cover all projects in floodplains, which President Clinton promised in an October 1998 speech to environmentalists. "We're disappointed," says Rosenberg, "but NRDC will continue to fight for full floodplain protection for wetlands to preserve critical environmental resources and prevent flooding."
The new permits will be published this week and take effect in June.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served by offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information on NRDC is available at its Web site, www.nrdc.org.
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