November 30, 1998

Proposal to Issue and Modify Nationwide Permits (Wetlands)

  • Susan Dudley

    Director, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center
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Army Corps of Engineers Proposal to Issue and Modify Nationwide Permits; Federal Register Vol. 63, No. 198, October 14, 1998

Stated Purpose:

"To further ensure that the proposed nationwide permits published in the July 1, 1998 Federal Register would only authorize activities that have minimal adverse environmental effects on the aquatic environment."

Summary of RSP Comment:

The key tests of whether a government action is likely to make American citizens better off are:

  • whether it is designed to correct a significant market imperfection and
  • whether its projected benefits are likely to exceed its projected costs.

The Corps' proposal does not specifically address either of these issues. The Corps is proposing to reduce the applicability and usefulness of its nationwide permit (NWP) system without presenting any information on the need for the proposed changes or the expected benefits or costs of the changes.

Historically, 90 percent of the activities permitted under Section 404 have been authorized through NWPs. However, under the Corps' proposal, large amounts of land would be excluded from NWPs, including wetlands "associated with" 40 percent of the nation's waters, and the 7 percent of the nation's land that is in the 100-year floodplain.

The costs associated with the increase in case-by-case permitting will be borne by Americans as taxpayers and consumers, as the proposal will increase bureaucracy, increase the time it takes to get NWP approval, and increase property costs (increasing the cost of living for American families).

Since voluntary, incentive-based programs have been more effective at restoring wetlands than the Corps' Section 404 program, approaches that rely on private property rights and state and local authorities are more likely to improve both wetlands and the welfare of the average citizen than the Corps' proposal.