(FDACS) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed an agreement granting Florida authority to issue construction permits in protected wetlands, an authority previously handled for many years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA.
In the 43 years since states were allowed to seek wetland permitting authority, only two had requests approved, and none since 1994. Both of those states have faced significant challenges in meeting federal law’s requirements to protect natural resources, and have faced those programs returning to federal jurisdiction.
This action sets a dangerous precedent that may lead to reduced protection of Florida’s wetlands and other surface waters. According to experts, the federal government’s wetland permitting process is more stringent than the state’s in reducing wetlands impacts from development. According to Audubon Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection lacks the staff, resources, track record, budget, and personnel to successfully manage the program; FDEP’s request also did not explain how it will replace federal safeguards, how it will assess impacts to species protected by the Endangered Species Act, or even which wetlands will fall under its jurisdiction. The vast majority of thousands of public comments from Floridians were in opposition to this decision, as are numerous environmental conservation groups.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, whose Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services includes the state’s Office of Agricultural Water Policy, previously expressed opposition to this unnecessary measure and offered the following statement:
“Both the DeSantis and Trump administrations have demonstrated a disregard for transparency and disinterest in protecting our waters. Those concerned with Florida’s environment have no reason to believe the State of Florida is prepared to manage critical wetlands permitting in a transparent, apolitical manner. It is a dangerous mistake for Administrator Wheeler, on the Trump administration’s way out the door, to strip this authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and hand it off to an underfunded, understaffed state agency. Water is our state’s lifeblood, a public good on which all Floridians rely, and we must ensure the proper checks and balances remain in place to protect and conserve it for generations to come.”
“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the capacity to take over the wetlands permitting that has been run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades. It can’t even manage to enforce the environmental laws already under its purview,” added Deborah Foote, Deputy Chapter Director for Sierra Club Florida. “To believe it can take this over with no additional financial resources is a pipe dream.”
Background: Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act requires a permit before dredged or fill material may be discharged into waters of the United States, and provides states and tribes the option of assuming, or taking over, the permitting responsibility and administration of the Section 404 permit program for certain waters. Section 404 permits for those assumed waters would be issued by the state or tribe instead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.