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White House Lets Wetlands Rule Take Effect

April 17, 2001|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will allow a Clinton-era environmental rule to take effect today, prohibiting developers from excavating in the nation's swamps, bogs and marshes without government approval.

The rule states that activities such as landscaping or ditch digging in wetland areas must be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA estimates that 20,000 acres of wetlands have been destroyed in the last two years because of work done without approval.

The new rule, which is part of the Clean Water Act, had been scheduled to take effect on Feb. 16. It was delayed until after the Bush administration completed a review of regulations approved by President Clinton in his final days in office.

"In addition to serving as habitat for wildlife, wetlands help filter and protect our country's water supply," EPA chief Christie Whitman said Monday. "Today's action will help preserve our wetlands for ourselves and for future generations."

Home builders immediately criticized the rule as federal over-stepping.

Jerry Howard, president of the National Assn. of Home Builders, said he was disappointed that the administration didn't sink the new rule. His organization already has filed a lawsuit to have the rule thrown out.

The issue of wetlands preservation has long been a battleground for environmental groups and the construction industry.

Under the Clean Water Act, introducing pollutants into waterways requires a permit. But whether the entirety of the act applied to wetlands--areas of low-standing water--was left ambiguous by a 1997 U.S. District Court ruling in favor of a construction effort. That ruling allowed companies to dig soil and gravel and reintroduce it into streams and waterways. Environmentalists say such a process can ruin the delicate ecology of wetlands.

Environmental groups were "cautiously optimistic" about the administration's decision, said Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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