"Continuing a decade-long litigation campaign, industry is trying to overturn key Clean Water Act safeguards blocking unfettered destruction of wetlands and streams," said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm representing National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club in the suit. "Industry's laissez-faire approach has already been tried, and produced large-scale environmental damage."
Under the Clean Water Act, discharges of dredged material are illegal without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. EPA has oversight responsibility in helping decide whether permits should be issued. Unfortunately, developers, mining companies, and others have conducted many environmentally destructive discharge activities that harm large areas of wetlands and streams, claiming that these activities should be exempt from the permit requirement. Many thousands of acres of wetlands and many miles of streams have been destroyed or damaged as a result.
The regulation at issue, issued in 2001, indicates that "[t]he Corps and EPA regard the use of mechanized earth-moving equipment to conduct landclearing, ditching, channelization, in-stream mining or other earth-moving activity waters of the United States as resulting in a discharge of dredged material" except in certain circumstances. Dissatisfied, representatives of real estate developers, gravel miners, roadbuilders, and others sued in federal district court, asking that the regulation be struck down.
"Without the legal clarification of the Clean Water Act that this rule provides, we have a serious gap in federal wetlands protections," said Julie M. Sibbing, wetlands policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. "The government shouldn't have to look the other way while developers and mining companies damage our precious natural resources."
"The real question, here," said Robin Mann, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, "is whether mining and other industry groups should be able to carry out their destructive practices at will, or whether they have to minimize their damage of our environment as much as possible, as the Clean Water Act requires of the rest of us."
The suit is pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Natl. Assn. of Home Builders v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DDC Civ. ##01-274 JR and 01-320 JR.