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Court Upholds Wetlands Protections

Developers fail in attempt to undermine federal rule
March 31, 2004
Washington DC —

In a victory for strong protections for our nation's waters, a federal judge today rejected industry challenges to a key Clean Water Act rule that protects wetlands and streams from unpermitted destruction. The ruling from Judge James Robertson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will help to prevent damage to the country's wetlands and streams resulting from landclearing, ditching, and mining.

"Industry groups were hoping that a federal court would give them a nationwide free pass to destroy wetlands and streams, but the court sent them packing," said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm representing National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club in the suit. "That's great news for communities concerned about water quality and flooding, and for recreationists interested in fish and wildlife."

Each year, an alarming number of wetlands and streams are damaged and destroyed by development, mining, channelization and other damaging activities. In many instances, the perpetrators have evaded Clean Water Act requirements by arguing that these activities do not "discharge" dredged or fill material.

Efforts to stop such abuses have stretched across many years. In 1999, EPA cogently explained the need for a new rule, indicating that unpermitted discharges of dredged material had cost the nation 30,000 acres of wetlands during a single nine-month period. The Corps and EPA responded in January 2001 with a new rulemaking from the Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency, which stated 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. Today, the court rejected their request, and dismissed the case.

"If this important rule had been struck down, thousands of acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams would have been put at risk of nearly unlimited drainage, extraction, and excavation," said Julie Sibbing, wetlands policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. "Today's ruling means that Clean Water Act safeguards will continue to protect streams and wetlands threatened by these harmful activities."

"Thanks to today's ruling," said Robin Mann, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, "mining and other industry groups will have to minimize their damage to our environment, as the Clean Water Act requires."

The suit, Natl. Assn. of Home Builders v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DDC Civ. ##01-274 JR, was decided by Judge James Robertson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Contacts

Howard Fox/Cat Lazaroff, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

Wendy Balazik, Sierra Club, 202-675-2383

Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation, 202-797-6832

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.