"The Corps admits that its general permits are destroying or damaging thousands of acres of wetlands every year, and that efforts to mitigate this damage most likely aren't working," said Howard Fox of Earthjustice. "Giving a blank check for such widespread environmental mayhem is indefensible."
Under the Clean Water Act, discharge of dredged or fill material into US waters requires a permit from the Corps. Normally, would-be dischargers must apply for such permits individually. However, if the Corps identifies a category of activities that would have only minimal environmental impact, it can issue a general permit – that is, a blanket authorization for all activities in the category, without the normal opportunity for public input. In the past, the Corps has issued numerous general permits – known as nationwide permits – that apply throughout the nation.
Pending before the Corps is a proposal to weaken nationwide permits issued last year. Though last year's permits continued to allow wide-ranging destruction of wetlands and streams, the Corps' proposal would not only reissue but also expand those permits, thus authorizing more environmentally damaging activities.
"After making a nod last year toward reforming its general permit program, the Corps now is proposing to take a big step backwards," said Daniel Rosenberg of Natural Resources Defense Council, another group joining in the comments. "Evidently the voice of developers and mining companies speaks louder to the Corps than the people and communities who depend on our wetlands and streams, and the fish and wildlife that need these water resources to live.
The Corps traditionally has denied that its nationwide permits are causing significant environmental harm. Today's comments take strong issue with that position, and argue that the Corps needs to go back to the drawing board to improve its programmatic environmental impact statement to accurately assess the damage to wetlands and streams being caused by the Corps' permitting program.
"It is absurd for the Corps to claim that the environmental impact of these dozens of blanket authorizations is minimal," said Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice. "The permit for surface coal mining alone has allowed massive devastation of mountains, forests, and streams in Appalachia. More than 1000 miles of streams have been destroyed under this permit. No one can credibly claim that this destruction is minimal."