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Wetlands Protection Rollback Will Benefit Developers More Than Farmers

The Trump administration's rollback of federal protections for wetlands and waterways, an action that President Donald Trump said will benefit farmers, will help real estate developers and the energy industry more.


An analysis the administration released last month shows that of the nearly quarter-million federal permits issued from 2011 to 2015 for wetlands-related work, developers were involved an average of nearly 1,000 times each year, the Associated Press reports.

Farmers, by contrast, were involved an average of eight times during each of those years.

The president touted the rollback's benefits to farmers at a speech on Monday at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention. Farmers are already exempt from most wetlands regulations that the rollback is addressing.

The new rules will make it easier to fill in bogs, creeks and streams for plowing — but also drilling, mining or building. 

The president began the process of regulatory change early in his administration with the signing of the Waters of the United States executive order in February 2017.

The order directed the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw an Obama-era rule that expanded the number of waterways that are federally protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Last month, the EPA announced the earlier rule's proposed replacement.

EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the replacement will rectify problems created by the earlier rule.

"Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not, without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals,” Wheeler said in a statement in December.

Under the new rules, at least 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands nationwide would not be protected, according to an EPA and Army Corps of Engineers staff slideshow that E&E News obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

While the federal government may be easing wetland protections, some states are moving in the opposite direction. This month, the California State Water Resources Control Board unveiled a final draft on how it plans to regulate dredge-and-fill activities in the state.

If adopted, the state's new policy would expand the permitting jurisdiction of regional water boards and impose additional regulatory requirements on certain farming activities and operations, Ag Alert reports.