EPA gives Florida wider authority over wetland development
TALLAHASSEE — The federal government granted Florida’s request for wider authority over wetland development, a move announced Thursday that came under immediate fire by environmentalist who worry that the country’s largest network of wetlands could be at risk of being further degraded.
The announcement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler was long sought by developers and Republican allies, who argued that the layers of regulatory scrutiny were cumbersome, expensive and unnecessary. Supporters touted the move as a step that would streamline the permitting process when property owners seek to develop wetlands.
During a news conference in Washington, Wheeler said the state had met the high bar necessary to assume the role of handling the permitting process.
“This action allows Florida to effectively evaluate and issue permits under the Clean Water Act to support the health of Florida’s waters, residents and economy,” he said.
“By taking over this permit program, Florida will be able to integrate its dredging and fill permitting with their traditional water quality and monitoring programs,” he said.
At around statehood in 1845, the state had about 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. By 1996, Florida had lost nearly half of that because of dredging, draining and filling. The state’s population growth has spawned a boom in development, which has prompted much of that destruction.
Florida accounts for about a fifth of the country’s wetlands and includes the Everglades, among the state’s most important environmental jewels. A massive restoration project costing billions of dollars is currently underway to repair the damage to the Everglades, including the draining of huge swaths of its marshes.
Wetlands serve a key role in the ecosystem, including in helping maintain water quality