Florida made history by becoming the third state to be approved for assumption of the Clean Water Act Section 404 program. Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, confirmed the announcement during a Thursday morning event.
“Following a rigorous and timely review process, EPA has approved Florida’s request for assumption of the Clean Water Act Section 404 program. This action allows Florida to effectively evaluate and issue permits under the Clean Water Act to support the health of Florida’s waters, residents and economy,” Wheeler said. “Receiving permission to administer this program is a high bar for states to meet.”
Florida joins Michigan and New Jersey as the only states with such authority. They were approved in 1984 and 1994. More states have expressed interest in the program. Wheeler said Florida’s path to Thursday’s announcement should be a “roadmap” for other states to follow.
“When Congress created this program, they intended for states to assume the authority much like what the states have done under Section 402. But over the years, the federal government has thrown so many hurdles in front of the states that no one has even tried to request the program,” Wheeler said. “What we have accomplished here today, by working with four other agencies at the federal level, three state agencies and eight tribal governments is provide the roadmap or framework that can be duplicated by other states.”
Section 404 of Clean Water Act
According to the EPA, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Activities in waters of the United States regulated under this program include fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports) and mining projects. Section 404 requires a permit before dredged or fill material may be discharged into waters of the United States, unless the activity is exempt from Section 404 regulation (e.g., certain farming and forestry activities).
Not everyone was pleased with the announcement, though. 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 today offered the following statement in a press release :
“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.”