Bush Administration Endorses Wetland Policy

April 20, 2001

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced Monday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward with a rule to ensure greater protection of America’s wetlands. The rule, like many others from the waning days of the Clinton Administration, had been put on hold for a review.

The rule plugs a loophole in the Clean Water Act that allowed discharges into wetlands from development activities such as mechanized land clearing, ditch digging or channel cutting, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Under the Clean Water Act, discharges into the waters of the United States require a permit. However, in 1997 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that a 1993 regulation, known as the "Tulloch Rule," should not have extended to certain discharges even when associated with activities that contribute to the loss of wetlands. That court decision was affirmed in June 1998 by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Uncertainty regarding the scope of this decision is considered to be a contributor to the destruction of many wetlands. Monday’s action protects wetlands by moving forward with a rule clarifying what discharges are subject to environmental review under the Clean Water Act.

"This administration will continue to take reasonable steps to ensure that we can preserve these vital natural resources for future generations of Americans," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer in a statement. The new rule will protect an estimated 20,000 acres of wetlands and 150 miles of streams, according to Fleischer.

"The Bush Administration is committed to keeping our waterways clean and safe," said Whitman. "The protection of America’s vanishing wetlands is a vital step toward ensuring cleaner water for everyone. In addition to serving as habitat for wildlife, wetlands help filter and protect our country’s water supply. Today’s action will help preserve our wetlands for ourselves and for future generations."

Monday’s action, taken jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, clarifies that wetlands are protected from many types of discharges that have contributed to the loss of wetlands in the United States.

Wetlands are a collective term for marshes, swamps, bogs and similar areas. They perform invaluable functions by filtering and cleansing the nation’s waters, helping to retain flood waters and providing spawning areas for commercially important fish. They are natural filters for toxins, heavy metals, nutrients, and other pollutants because the vegetation and wet soil trap toxins and sediments. They also provide habitat for numerous types of wildlife.

Source: U.S. EPA