Washington Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson issued a statement on the decision today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopting a new rule to exempt thousands of wetlands and streams from federal oversight. The federal rule would take effect June 22.
“Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have chosen to recognize the occasion by eliminating federal protection for tens of thousands of water bodies across the nation.
“As the White House continues its relentless attack on the environment, the Washington Department of Ecology stands firm in our commitment to protect wetlands, ponds, and streams that migratory birds and salmon depend on.
“This is another tragic abdication of federal responsibility to protect the environment. It also puts roadblocks in the way of economic progress. While Washington law continues to provide protections for these streams and wetlands, the federal rollback leaves our state without an established permitting process or clear guidelines to review potential environmental impacts. This will mean confusion and potential delays for development in our state.
“It’s also troubling the federal government is abandoning its role to respond to toxic spills and releases in these areas, potentially imposing additional burdens on state and local taxpayers to foot the bill for costly cleanups.
“While we weigh our legal options to block this ill-considered action, we will be working with affected industry groups and local governments to bridge the gap left by irresponsible federal regulators.”
In Washington, wetlands, streams, ponds and other water bodies are protected under the state’s 1945 Water Pollution Control Act, 1972 Shoreline Management Act, 1990 Growth Management Act, and other environmental regulations. For years, Ecology worked closely with the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate projects in a streamlined fashion under the 1972 federal Clean Water Act. When projects fell outside federal purview, we issued administrative orders to address wetlands impacts, and identify mitigation and regulatory requirements. The new federal rule means thousands of Washington wetlands no longer qualify for federal protection or the streamlined review process we developed with the Army Corps.