Washington, DC, May 12, 2020 — Two federal environmental agencies are taking diametrically opposed positions on the ecological and economic value of wetlands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While the U,S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled a rule allowing more than half of the wetlands in the country to be dredged and filled, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is celebrating “American Wetlands Month” with web-events, a podcast, and other activities highlighting the importance of preserving wetlands.
In a May 11 press release, FWS declares wetlands to be “of vital importance to local communities, recreation and wildlife” The agency also stresses the “Critical functions and ecosystem services of wetlands include recharging groundwater, filtering excess nutrients, toxins and sediment from water that ends up in our rivers, oceans and faucets, mitigating against floods and supporting hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities.”
Yet, the very benefits touted by one agency are being wholly dismissed by another. EPA’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, finalized just days earlier, discounts prior agency estimates of the vast benefits conveyed by wetlands. PEER has filed a formal complaint that charges that EPA’s U-turn on wetlands was engineered through scientific fraud committed by the agency’s top political appointees.
“EPA’s new policy is both a radical reduction of Clean Water Act protections and a reversal of a half-century of American environmental policy,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney. “I guess the Fish & Wildlife Service didn’t get the White House memo that wetlands lost their value.”
PEER estimates that EPA’s new WOTUS rule will allow 60% of U.S. waters and wetlands and 90% in the arid West to be filled without permits. The loss of more 40 million acres of wetlands would also have devastating impacts and threaten drinking water for one-third of Americans.
In its press release, FWS proudly recounts the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars annually on programs designed to conserve or enhance wetlands. At the same time, PEER exposed EPA documents revealing that, among dire economic effects, its WOTUS rule would wipe out a half-billion-dollar-a-year wetland mitigation and restoration industry.
“It is absurd that we have one government agency spending millions to preserve wetlands while another agency connives for their destruction,” added Whitehouse, noting that PEER is among a growing collection of organizations and states filing lawsuits to invalidate the new WOTUS rule. “If Trump’s WOTUS scheme prevails, this month may be the last one in which American wetlands can be celebrated.”