Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Business Friendly can be Environment Friendly – Part II

Bad information leads to bad decisions.  The opposite is also true.  Businesses need accurate information to make good decisions including information about wetlands and other aquatic resources.

Here is a case in point.  When Wisconsin DNR staff were auditing the state wetland program a few years ago, they talked a lot to businesses in the state and asked them what would help to reduce their costs.

“Knowing the location of wetlands,” was one of the answers.  Avoiding wetlands is a way of avoiding costs.  Wetland maps that provide accurate information about known or probable wetland sites allow companies to avoid purchasing a piece of property, investing resources and then discovering there was a wetland on the site with the associated increases in costs of building (i.e. filling the wetland) and gaining the required permits.  As a result Wisconsin developed wetland probability maps.  These maps are available online at: http://dnr.wi.gov/wetlands/mapping.html

This is one of the actions states can take to respond to the needs of businesses without weakening protection for wetlands and water resources.

Generally activities undertaken by states to improve permitting fall into six categories: 1) consolidating permitting; 2) communicating expectations clearly before permitting starts; 3) providing online applications; 4) utilizing science & technology; 5) enhancing data management; and 6) delivering consistency in program management. ASWM has posted state summaries of “improving permitting projects” in New York, Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Kansas, Virginia and Indiana. http://aswm.org/wetland-programs/improving-wetland-permitting These initiatives by state government can lead to better decisions—both for businesses applying for permits to alter wetlands and to the public which expects government to ensure a sustained supply of clean water and abundant wildlife.

Clean water remains America’s top environmental concern http://www.gallup.com/poll/117079/water-pollution-americans-top-green-concern.aspx Businesses need clean water as well.  In a survey comparing concerns over aging water infrastructure between businesses and the general population, businesses overall attached a similar level of importance to water infrastructure.  http://www.itt.com/valueofwater/water_survey.htm

It is also reasonable to anticipate business interest in social and environmental issues will continue to increase.  A growing number of universities such as Stanford, Yale and Berkeley are including discussions of social and environmental issues in their curriculum for business majors. http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/18858-The-Aspen-Institute-Releases-its-Alternative-Business-School-Rankings

However, while it is likely that a forward-looking state will be able to leverage public support for pro business/pro environment initiatives, and attract new business ventures, there are also challenges.  The recession has affected the public’s perspective on the relative importance of protecting the environment versus growing the economy.  In March 2009 for the first time since polling on this topic began in the early ‘80s the public put the economy before the environment. http://www.gallup.com/video/116947/First-Time-Americans-Put-Economy-Environment.aspx Many perceive environment versus economy as an “either or” decision.  It is past time to challenge whether this is correct.  Is it possible for an economy to remain healthy if the environment is not?

A healthy environment, in conjunction with sustainable development–including avoiding placing infrastructure in areas subject to floods and other natural hazards (i.e. wetlands and floodplains)– is good for long-term economic growth and stability.  A study of businesses returning to New Orleans after Katrina underlines the importance of the issue of avoiding damage to businesses from natural hazards such as floods and hurricanes and limiting development to areas that will provide sustainable infrastructure.  http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0006765.  A business’s environmental record is also important to the community where it is located. http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/environment/article_c0938813-afc8-517c-9e34-bfac3af6c3a6.html
In a recent posting on the website Environmental Regulations: Science, Economics, and Ethics contributing writer Mike Brandolino described how that effective environmental regulation is a balancing act between environmental science, economics and ethics.  http://www.suite101.com/content/environmental-regulations-science-economics-and-ethics-a307978.

There are significant opportunities to protect environmental resources, improve business opportunities and restore economic health.  But only if policymakers, businesses, environmental interests and the public collaborate to listen and share ideas that generate solutions.

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