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The Compleat Wetlander: Wish list for State Wetlands Programs in 2010

The beginning of the year is a chance to look back and look ahead.  Many people celebrate New Year’s by making resolutions for the coming year.
  But this is just a start.  Resolutions have to be followed up with new habits and new actions.  Admittedly these don’t need to wait for a new year.  Change can start anytime.  But somehow the onset of longer days seems like a good time for an optimistic look ahead.

The new year is also an opportunity to set goals for wetland policy.  This week I’ll identify five areas of activity that top my wish list for state wetland programs.  The best wetland resolutions in my mind are those that provide multiple benefits.  They support healthy wetlands for a healthy environment and a healthy economy by delivering fair, understandable programs.  Is this easy?  No.  But then New Year’s resolutions never are.

New Year’s Resolutions for the States

States get a chance to focus on things that really improve permitting.  Improving permitting decisions is doable, but the activities most likely to make a meaningful difference are not likely to grab media attention.  Consolidating permitting, providing better communication before permitting begins, creating online applications, utilizing science and technology, improving data management and establishing protocols for overall program consistency are all areas that states can invest in to deliver understandable, timely and environmentally sound permit decisions.  They have the potential to make an enormous difference in delivering programs in ways that the national discussions about jurisdiction can never achieve.

State wetland grant funds are made available for implementation.  Currently EPA’s wetland grant program can only be used to create and develop wetland programs, not to run them.  This made sense back in 1991 when the grant program was created.  But many states have been running state wetland programs for 20+ years now and it is past time for the grant program to support the day to day implementation of established programs while continuing to support development.

EPA 401 Certification Handbook published.  401 Certification is the part of the Clean Water Act which allows states to waive, deny or condition federal permits including Section 404 dredge and fill permits and FERC hydropower permits.  A few years ago the EPA began work on a document that identified best practices for state 401 certification programs.   Nowadays states are wrestling with many new challenges in running 401 certification programs.  The handbook should be reviewed, revised and published to provide a much needed resource to the states.  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues and strengthens its commitment to build partnerships with the states.  The Corps, EPA and the states share responsibilities for jointly implementing the Clean Water Act.  While EPA and the states overlap in many areas—Section 106, 319, 401, TMDLs and so on, the Corps’ and states’ relationship is confined largely to dredge and fill permitting.  Coordination has always existed, but in recent years the Corps has worked much harder to cooperate with the states in program delivery.  Under the new chief of the regulatory program, Meg Gaffney-Smith, finding ways to work together is taking a giant leap forward with new commitments to improving mitigation, developing consistency in program delivery, expanding the use of programmatic general permits and sharing information.  Much of the real work is just getting underway, and all parties must continue to work together to continue to make progress. 

Successful transition to implementing the new requirements for In Lieu Fee programs.  The mitigation rule published by the Corps and EPA in April 2008 established new requirements for implementation of In Lieu Fee programs to hold them to a higher standard by establishing new requirements more consistent with those for individual mitigation projects and mitigation banks.  Existing and new In Lieu Fee programs must come into compliance with
the new rule by July of 2010.  In addition to the federal mitigation rule, states such as New Hampshire must also comply with their own state legislation on implementing an In Lieu Fee program.  As a result there are a number of new provisions at the federal and state level that In Lieu Fee programs will need to comply with and it is important to achieve a successful transition consistent with the new requirements over the next few months.

This week’s list addressed state wetland programs.  Next week the Compleat Wetlander will add to our wish list with nationwide priorities for wetlands.

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