For Immediate Release: Apr 18, 2011
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337


Green Power Encouraged to Leave Brown Footprints under New Exemptions

Washington, DC — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to approve rules that will destroy hundreds of miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands under the guise that there will only be minimal impacts, according to formal comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and other groups.   The rules would for the first time permit destruction of wetlands and streams and ocean floor to accommodate renewable power facilities.

“The Army Corps is doing the nation a disservice with this proposal by permitting massive losses of freshwater swamps, streams, and ocean habitat,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former wetlands specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  “The Clean Water Act only allows this type of permit for projects with ‘minimal adverse environmental effects’ but the Corps has plowed a battleship through this narrow loophole.”

Today is the final day for public comments on the latest version of the Corps rule for Nationwide Permits, a regulatory device to streamline the permitting process for minor projects.  However, PEER estimates that the permits authorize a minimum of 328 miles of American streams to be filled each year and likely substantially more.  The environmental groups charge that the Corps proposal –

  • Violates the Clean Water Act requirement that this type of permit may only be issued for activities that “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects when performed separately, and will have only minimal cumulative adverse effects on the environment.”  By contrast, the plan could allow unlimited wetland losses and allow the Corps to waive acreage limits where they exist;
  • Strips away comprehensive review by the federal resource agencies, allowing sensitive habitats to be sliced apart bit-by-bit without looking at cumulative effects; and
  • Allows wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy to gratuitously destroy wetlands, streams and seabed, even when there are available alternatives.  The Corps would even allow wetlands destruction for parking lots, access roads and other “attendant features” of these energy projects.

“The Corps has turned wetlands protection into a regulatory car wash where the permits are spit out in assembly line fashion,” added Bennett, noting that in 2003, the Corps issued 74,000 Nationwide or other permits. “These Nationwide Permits subject natural places to death by a thousand cuts.”

The Corps plan would allow up to ½ acre of wetland fill per renewable energy structure as well as the loss of up to 300 linear feet of stream, or more, at the Corps’ discretion.  In November 2010, PEER published a draft of this Corps plan which authorized up to 1 acre of fill for each wind turbine and no limit on the number of turbines but the final version is limited to ½ acre of fill for a maximum of 10 turbines.