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

The Compleat Wetlander: Priorities #1 for State Wetland Programs: Supporting open communication between Federal and State Agencies

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

This month the Association of State Wetland Managers published a paper describing “Priorities for State Wetland Programs in the New Administration” which outlines six areas of importance to state wetland managers:  1)  Supporting open communications between Federal and State Agencies, 2) Encouraging state assumption of the Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Program, 3) Fully funding prioritesaswmClean Water Act programs including Wetland Program Development Grants, 4) Offering technical support and training to state wetland programs to ensure compliance with state requirements,  5) Providing accurate maps of the nation’s aquatic resources and 6) Leveraging opportunities to reduce pollution and natural hazards, protect drinking water and reduce costs through natural infrastructure solutions.

We believe these priorities provide a solid framework for working with the New Administration, their federal agencies, states, and the many partners ASWM has cooperated with over the years.  Priority #1 – Supporting open communications between Federal and State Agencies, for example, is even more important when the federal government is planning significant changes in programs and policies.

Healthy wetlands are intrinsic to sustaining clean water for the Nation as a whole and the work of individual state wetland programs is essential to sustain these and other aquatic resources. They are also important to sustaining a healthy economy.

outdooreconomyFor example Outdoor Industry Association in its 2012 report estimated annual expenditures of $91.9 billion in gear- and travel- related sales, $34.7 billion generated in jobs, and $12.1 billion in federal, state and local taxes from fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing alone[i]. Sustainable fish and wildlife populations to support these industries are heavily dependent on healthy wetlands. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment gave wetlands world-wide a value of $15 trillion in 1997[ii]. A report on the impact of wetland restoration on local economies found that every dollar spent on coastal wetland restoration returns $1.90 in economic activity[iii].  Industry-based risk models indicate that coastal wetlands saved more than $625 million in avoided flood damage from Hurricane Sandy[iv].  And so on.  Changes in domestic programs have the potential to affect both the environmental and economic benefits of wetlands.

coastalwetlandsTherefore in the coming months supporting open communications between Federal and State agencies will be extremely important.  Discussions about the potential effects of proposed changes from the state perspective will provide important insights into the often unintended consequences of proposed changes.  These changes may not be on the radar of those thinking about the issue on the national level.

This was very apparent during the development of the Clean Water Rule under the previous Administration.  States, state organizations, and others were very concerned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not engage in robust consultation prior to issuance of the proposed rule.  When the proposed rule was reviewed by the states, issues were raised about impacts of changes in jurisdiction on development of water quality standards, total maximum daily loads, identification of stormwater facilities, etc.  These were issues not considered during rule development.  The lack of consultation and the opportunity for active engagement in addressing these concerns prior to publication of the proposed rule left many states uncertain over how the changes in jurisdiction would impact a number of Clean Water Act programs, and ultimately undercut state support for the Clean Water Rule.

The current Administration has signaled its intention to rescind and replace the Clean Water Rule by directing the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Army to define ‘navigable waters’  “in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006).”  This seems to signal the intention to significantly restrict waters subject to the Clean Water Act.  In his opinion for the plurality, “Justice Scalia ultimately concluded that Waters of the United States should include only relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water because, according to him, that was the definition of “the waters” in Webster’s Dictionary”  If the Administration is pursuing a Clean Water Rule that will significantly reduce waters that have been protected under the Clean Water Act for decades, early and detailed consultation with the states and many others is imperative since states will take on the responsibility of deciding whether or not to protect those waters under state programs after federal protections are removed.

New administrations are often slow to gain an understanding of the intricate balancing act that has been pursued between state and federal programs in the arena of environmental protection.   This Administration is clearly pursuing ambitious plans to roll back federal environmental protections and provide the opportunity for states to take over.  If those efforts are going to be successful, they must be coordinated with the states.  Hopefully, there will be a commitment by this Administration to do that in the coming weeks, months and years.

[i] Outdoor Industry Association. 2012.  The Outdoor Recreation Economy
[ii] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC
[iii] Restoration Returns: The contribution of Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program Restoration Projects to Local U.S. Economies. 2013. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
[iv] Narayan, S., Beck, M.W., Wilson, P., Thomas, C., Guerrero, A., Shepard, C., Reguero, B.G., Franco, G., Ingram, C.J., Trespalacios, D. 2016. Coastal Wetlands and Flood Damage Reduction: Using Risk Industry-based Models to Assess Natural Defenses in the Northeastern USA. Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation, London.

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