Delta News

Changes to Clean Water Act Abandoned

BISMARCK, ND—The Bush administration, under pressure from sportsmen and conservationists, has abandoned plans to issue new rules that would have eliminated protections for wetlands critical to duck production under the Clean Water Act.

A story in the Washington Post said the administration received more than 133,000 comments opposing the administration’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that would have stripped millions of acres of wetlands from protection under CWA. Additionally, 218 members of Congress signed a letter to President Bush urging him to abandon the rulemaking process.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday reiterated the administration’s commitment to “no net loss” of wetlands and said they would forgo issuing new rules on regulatory jurisdiction over isolated wetlands.

“Sportsmen made their voices heard,” says Rob Olson, director of operations for Delta Waterfowl’s US office here. “Their comments to the administration made a huge difference. The rules proposed earlier by the administration would have eliminated CWA protection for all isolated wetlands, those little temporary and seasonal wetlands so critical for duck production.

“This is a very positive first step, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” cautions Olson, “because the guidelines issued last January have not yet been rescinded. Swampbuster is still in place, but we need to continue to work towards permanent federal regulations protecting these little wetlands.”

Julie Sibbing of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the organization that led the fight to protect wetlands, agrees. “We’re breathing a little easier,” says Sibbing, “but the guidance issued in January is still in place. What this does is to free us up to monitor what’s happening on the ground to see how this is going to shake out.

“Several lower court decisions since that guidance was issued have been favorable, but we still need a legal hook to permanently protect isolated wetlands.”

Olson and Sibbing say the best way to guarantee protection of isolated wetlands would be passage of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, which was intended to clarify Congress’ intent when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act has been blocked by the leadership in Congress, and isn’t likely to pass any time soon.

The scope of CWA wetland protections came into question after the US Supreme Court ruled in the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) case that isolated wetlands did not qualify for CWA protections based on their use by migrating birds.

For additional information, contact Rob Olson or John Devney at 888-987-3695.