Army Corps May Permit Green Power Developers to Fill Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 2010 (ENS) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to propose new rules that allow the filling of wetlands and streams without environmental review to make way for renewable energy facilities, according to a draft discussion document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The Corps’ draft discusses proposed new Nationwide Permits, NWP, for land-based renewable power generators such as wind, solar and geothermal power; offshore wind and solar arrays; and tidal, wave or other hydrokinetic energy generation devices.

“This would enable green power to gratuitously create brown consequences,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

“The Corps is using a regulatory device designed for actions that have minimal cumulative adverse effects on the environment, but the scope of its draft permits could permit massive losses of freshwater swamps, streams, and ocean habitat,” Ruch said.

This wind farm in Atlantic City, New Jersey is located across a wetland from the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife refuge. (Photo by jdloadtest)

The Army Corps’ draft states, “We are proposing to issue a new NWP to authorize the discharges of dredged or fill material into non-tidal waters of the United States, excluding non-tidal wetlands adjacent to tidal waters, for the construction, expansion, modification or improvement of land-based renewable energy production facilities.”

The Corps’ draft discussion document proposes a one acre limit for the Nationwide Permits, “including the loss of no more than 300 linear feet of stream bed,” saying, “We believe the one acre limit, as well as the 300 foot limit for stream impacts, will authorize only those activities that have minimal adverse effects on the aquatic environment, individually and cumulatively.”

The draft proposed Nationwide Permits also cover parking lots, roads, power lines and other “attendant facilities.”

The purpose of the Nationwide Permit Program is to streamline the evaluation and approval process throughout the nation for certain types of activities that have only minimal impacts to the aquatic environment, the Corps states on its website.

In practice, this means that Nationwide Permits limit or eliminate review by other federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.

These Corps proposals are still in draft form but are written for submission to the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period. The Corps has made no public announcements about its timetable to actually propose these Nationwide Permits.

“This is all about paving over places that are needed for our ecological health,” said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former regional wetlands coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“These exemptions are not narrowly constructed. They are written to create open-ended blanket exemptions that are not subject to further review,” Bennett said. “The need to move from carbon-based power should not become a pretext for trashing habitat.”

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