House Passes Graves Amendment To End Corps of Engineers' Double Standard
Washington DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed an amendment to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act offered by Rep. Garret Graves (R – South Louisiana) that will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to comply with the same wetlands protection standards that are imposed on private property owners by the agency.
“Americans are tired of two standards – a standard whereby our private property owners are faced with one set of costly and burdensome regulations while the federal government simply ignores the law,” said Graves. “Nowhere is this more evident than with the Corps of Engineers. Let’s be clear, actions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are the single largest cause of wetlands loss in this country and their continued mismanagement of the Mississippi River system makes our coastal communities more vulnerable every day. Hurricane Katrina was clear evidence of this. Further, the loss of wetlands adversely affects the fisheries, birds and health of the Gulf of Mexico. This double standard has got to stop”.
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is the law establishing the federal government’s authority to protect wetlands. In most cases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for administering the law, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has primary jurisdiction on enforcement of wetlands laws and can veto decisions of the Corps. When private property owners take action on their land that impacts wetlands – building a house, expanding a driveway, constructing a fence - they are required to mitigate and pay for that impact. This process is very expensive, particularly in South Louisiana.
In recent years, the Corps has increased these wetlands mitigation requirements on private property owners while repeatedly granting different compliance guidelines for their own projects and activities. Further, the federal government recently finalized a definition of “Waters of the United States” that will result in a significant expansion of federal government authority over private property as it relates to rivers, streams, drainage and wetlands. At a time when the federal government seeks to expand wetlands jurisdiction, Cong. Graves offered his amendment to highlight the hypocrisy of the Corps management practices and to put an end to the double standard.
“To watch the federal government continue to purport to be good stewards of our environment and heap costly regulations upon our citizens and businesses then continue to destroy hundreds of square miles of our Sportsman’s Paradise is an extraordinary case of hypocrisy. If the protection of wetlands is so important to the Corps of Engineers, we are going to help them comply with their own rules. The reality is, there on the hook for billions of dollars of damages.” added Graves. “They made their bed, now they are going to lie in it.”
A majority of the 1,900 square miles of coastal wetlands loss in Louisiana can be attributed to Corps of Engineers’ management of the Lower Mississippi River System through the construction of levees and other structures. Louisiana used to grow by three quarters of a square mile a year through the process of accretion. Since the Corps assumed management of the river, Louisiana now loses on average 26 square miles a year.
Graves concluded, “ Any citizen or business carrying out similar actions would be in jail right now.”