Good article. Can you spell 'L-A-N-D T-R-U-S-T-S'?
The objective of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. To help achieve that objective, the Act limits the ability to dredge or fill a wetland. To do so, one must first obtain a section 404 permit. These permits, which the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) issues with coordination and oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), require project proponents to avoid, minimize, and compensate the harms of any wetland destruction or modification. Compensatory mitigation is a troubling concept in wetlands regulation because it acknowledges that wetland destruction will occur. Thus, instead of preventing wetland conversion, developers in this scenario compensate for wetlands lost. Compensatory mitigation can come in the form of restoration, creation, enhancement, and/or preservation of wetlands and other aquatic resources. Wetlands are preserved by prohibiting their conversion, often through property encumbrances like conservation easements and deed restrictions. This scenario exchanges preservation of certain wetlands for a right to degrade or destroy other wetlands.
This Article urges the Corps to eliminate its use of preservation as mitigation and to improve accountability mechanisms where private organizations, like land trusts and private mitigation banks, remain involved in wetlands permitting programs. As even the EPA acknowledges that preservation results in a net loss of wetlands, preservation is unlikely to compensate for the loss in ecological function from wetlands destruction. Additionally, because private land trusts commonly manage, monitor, and enforce preservation areas with little to no oversight by the Corps or the EPA, concerns of accountability and democracy arise. Although this Article focuses on the Clean Water Act’s section 404 program, the arguments and lessons discussed here apply to state and local wetland mitigation programs as well. Indeed, these same issues arise in all types of mitigation schemes, from endangered species habitat to prime agricultural soils.