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Trump Administration Lets State Take Lead On Development Permits For Wetlands

Photo courtesy Everglades National Park

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it is handing over at least some of its oversight of Florida’s wetlands to the state. 

Specifically the EPA is transferring permitting authority to the state, it says to streamline decisions on whether to fill in wetlands for development. 

Typically, if a project would damage or destroy wetlands, developers have to get approval from both the state and the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act.

But EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler believes lawmakers always intended for states to have more authority.

“This is exactly what congress envisioned, it’s just what was in practice for the last 30 years was a number of federal hurdles that prevented states from taking over the program that Congress wanted them to take over.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says its staff knows the state’s resources best and will be better-equipped to protect them. 

But environmental groups worry the state DEP is underfunded and understaffed, which could leave Florida’s wetlands more vulnerable to urbanization.

Some advocates are decrying the decision as a setback for Florida’s iconic but fragile wetlands like the Everglades. 

Richard Grosso, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, says that removes the wetlands from  stronger federal protections like the Endangered Species Act. 

“You’re going to have an understaffed wetlands permitting agencies that have constant political pressure to say, ‘Yes,” to development, a lot of it being pursued by the state of Florida itself. And they’re trying to enforce laws that are weaker than the federal laws.” 

Other advocates are cheering the news. The Nature Conservancy describes the decision as a “positive development” that could expedite restoration projects. 

Florida is set to become the third state to be granted wetland permitting authority. 


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