Corps’ new nationwide permits fall short

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to enact stronger protections for wetlands and marshes in updating it "nationwide permits" program, the agency issued its first-ever permit for living shorelines.  (© N.C. Coastal Federation)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released updates to 52 permits in its “nationwide permit” program, intended to authorize projects with minor environmental impacts to land, wetlands, and waterways. Too often, this streamlined permitting process is applied to projects that should be looked at more carefully on a case-by-case basis and require in-depth study and analysis.

Unfortunately, the majority of the 2017 permits maintain their sweeping exceptions that allow major projects like oil and gas development, pipeline and transmission-line construction, and coal mining without proper environmental analysis.

“Allowing the continued use of nationwide permits comes at a high cost to our wetlands and marshes. It’s extremely disappointing that the Corps continues to rely so extensively on these one-size-fits-all, expedited permits,” said SELC Senior Attorney Bill Sapp.

Along with partners from across the Southeast and nationwide, SELC weighed in by filing comments on several of the permits, urging the Corps to take proactive steps to strengthen permit conditions and close regulatory loopholes.

SELC has long challenged the Corps’ issuance of Nationwide Permit 13, which allows for the construction of bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardening structures that harm coastal ecosystems and can lead to accelerated erosion. In filed comments and in federal court, SELC has pushed for the Corps to retire NWP 13 and to issue a new nationwide permit covering living shorelines projects.

While the Corps disappointingly reissued NWP 13 with minor changes, the agency has now issued the first-ever permit for living shorelines, NWP 54. By making the permitting process faster and easier for property owners and contractors to construct living shorelines, the hope is that more property owners will choose living shorelines projects to stem erosion while maintaining important natural shoreline features, instead of environmentally-damaging bulkheads.

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