WASHINGTON -- Developers no longer will have to restore or create new wetlands for every acre they drain or fill under new regulations issued by the Bush administration Monday.
The new Army Corps of Engineers rules, which revoke some Clinton-era requirements, also will enable developers to win speedy approval for draining and filling permits under the Clean Air Act if the effect on streams or marshes is minimal.
Instead of requiring acre-for-acre restoration on each project, the new regulations require only that there be "no net loss" of wetlands in any of the Corps' 38 districts, which are established on the basis of watersheds rather than state boundaries.
John Studt, chief of the Corps' regulatory branch, said the new permit requirements "will do a better job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying some administrative burdens for the regulated public."
Left in place was a Clinton-era requirement that developers get a permit for any project involving more than a half-acre of wetlands. Until 2000, developers had to get government approval only if more than three acres of wetlands were affected.
The Fish and Wildlife Service complained in an Oct. 15 memo the ecological effects of the changes had not been assessed adequately. The agency said it "does not believe the Corps has sufficient scientific basis to claim" that the new, expedited permits will "cause only minimal impact on the nation's natural resources."