Proposed Interim Wetlands Definition Is a Good Start, but Needs More Clarity in Next Round

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and 26 other water quality groups today filed comments supporting the Biden administration’s proposal to effectively repeal its predecessor’s dangerously narrow wetlands rule and temporarily replace it with an updated version of the stronger rule in use before 2015.

The scientifically and legally flawed Trump rule withdrew long-standing safeguards for hundreds of thousands of non-tidal wetlands, wetlands not located adjacent to other waters, non-navigable tributaries, and streams that don’t run continuously. The Trump rule also failed to consider its potentially damaging impact on environmental justice communities.  

The rule proposed by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would restore the protections the Trump rule undermined and update them with Supreme Court case law that established a way to determine when these kinds of wetlands and streams are protected under the Clean Water Act. 

CBF praised the agencies’ proposal as “a good first step” but urged the administration “to work swiftly in the next round of rulemaking to provide additional clarity.” EPA and the Army Corps plan to offer a new wetlands definition later this year to supersede the proposed interim definition. 

CBF also called for the next rule to protect non-adjacent wetlands and seasonal streams, including two types of wetlands unique to the Bay region—shallow depressions known as “Delmarva bays” and swampy bogs called “pocosins.” Delmarva bays and pocosins cover 34,560 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Delaware and Virginia. 

Finally, CBF said the agencies must consider how destroying wetlands can exacerbate the chronic flooding that disproportionately hurts socially disadvantaged communities. 

There are 1.5 million acres of wetlands across the Bay’s 64,000 square-mile watershed. Wetlands trap polluted runoff, provide critical wildlife habitat, and buffer storm surges, among other valuable environmental benefits. They are essential to restoring the Bay and its tributaries and supporting the watershed’s diverse wildlife. 

CBF Federal Executive Director Denise Stranko released the following statement: 

“CBF is encouraged by the Biden administration’s proposal to reinstate and update wetlands protections gutted by the Trump administration. Doing so will ensure federal protection for ecologically important wetlands across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

“This proposal is a promising first step toward crafting a clear definition of federally protected wetlands that  fulfills the Clean Water Act’s promise to safeguard the Chesapeake Bay and the rest of our nation’s waters. 

“To finish the job, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers must work quickly to provide additional regulatory clarity and ensure the watershed’s unique Delmarva bays and pocosins are protected. They must also thoroughly consider how the new definition will affect socially disadvantaged and underserved communities already overburdened by the effects of wetlands loss.” 

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Joining CBF in filing today’s comments were: 

American Chestnut Land Trust
Anacostia Watershed Society
Audubon Naturalist Society
Audubon Society of Northern Virginia
Cacapon Institute
Capital Region Land Conservancy 
Chesapeake Legal Alliance
Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage
Citizens to Conserve and Restore Indian Creek
Corsica River Conservancy
Delaware Nature Society
Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek
Friends of Nanticoke River
Friends of Quincy Run
Friends of St. Clements Bay
League of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania
Lynnhaven River NOW
Maryland League of Conservation Voters
Otsego County Conservation Association
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Potomac Conservancy
Rock Creek Conservancy
Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center 

Lisa Caruso 90x110

Lisa Caruso

Washington, D.C. Communications & Media Relations Manager, CBF

[email protected]

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