THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the President
October 7, 1998
PROTECTING AMERICA'S WETLANDS
President Clinton, in an address today to the League of Conservation Voters, announces new steps to preserve America's threatened wetlands. These rules, proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will require thorough environmental review -- with full public participation -- of proposals to fill or build in floodplains or other sensitive wetlands. These changes will conserve water quality and wildlife habitat, and help protect communities against flooding.
A Threatened Resource. Wetlands perform vital ecological functions critical to our economy and our quality of life. They protect water quality by filtering out pollutants, serve as nurseries for fish and other aquatic species, and act as a natural buffer against flooding by absorbing excess flows. Yet over half the wetlands in the lower 48 states have been destroyed. Although wetland losses have been reduced, an estimated 100,000 acres disappear each year. Almost 50 percent of America's threatened and endangered species are dependent on wetlands.
Incentives to Restore. In February, President Clinton announced the Clean Water Action Plan, a comprehensive initiative to help clean up the 40 percent of America's surveyed waterways still too polluted for fishing and swimming. One of its goals is a net increase of 100,000 acres of wetlands a year by 2005. An important part of the strategy is working with communities and landowners to encourage wetlands restoration. For instance, the Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program provides incentives to farmers and ranchers to restore wetlands lost to cultivation and grazing.
New, Stronger Protections. Meeting the President's restoration goal will also require stronger protection of the wetlands that remain. In some cases, federal rules allow for expedited approval for filling or building in wetlands, resulting in significant wetland losses. In 1996, the Administration announced plans to stem this loss by tightening a set of rules administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called Nationwide Permits. A set of replacement permits was proposed in July. Today, the President is announcing changes to this proposal to:
- Require individual permits, with opportunity for public input, for most proposals that involve filling of wetlands within 100-year floodplains.
- Require individual permits, with opportunity for public input, for most proposals that involve filling of wetlands near waters already impaired by wetland losses or pristine waters designated for special protection.
- Eliminate the proposed nationwide permit that would allow up to 10 acres of wetlands fill for large- scale developments without individual permits.
These changes allow for reasonable development while protecting some of our most sensitive wetlands. They will ensure that proposals in these fragile areas are thoroughly reviewed and communities can comment before decisions are made.
Saving Lives and Property. Closer scrutiny of proposals to build in floodplains can also help reduce flood damage. In a typical year, 140 Americans die in floods and $4 billion in property is destroyed. Building in floodplains can put lives and property directly in harm's way -- and expose others to risk by destroying wetlands that provide a buffer against flooding.