News | January 20, 2010

Corps Goes Forward With Program that Lowers Environmental Standards

In Georgia, the Savannah District of the Army Corps of Engineers is going forward with a permitting program that will significantly weaken stream and wetland protections in an attempt to fast-track economic stimulus projects–even though state regulators have refused to give blanket approval to projects permitted under this program, as the Corps had requested. 

The program involves regional general permits that are intended for activities that have no more than a “minimal impact” on the environment. The new permits, however, will substantially relax the standard for what is considered “minimal impact,” increasing by up to 10 times the area of wetlands typically allowed to be destroyed under this standard, and tripling the length of streams allowed to be dredged or filled. While acknowledging the need to get people back to work quickly, SELC has been urging the Corps to drop its plan to ease environmental protections as a way to get stimulus projects underway.

“SELC and our national, state, and local partner groups have been urging the Corps to shelve its plan to issue these permits, and we are extremely pleased that the state has objected to this program as proposed by the Corps,” said SELC senior attorney Bill Sapp. Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division and Environmental Protection Division have both turned down the Corps’s request to give sweeping water quality certification to all projects permitted under this plan.

The Savannah District is the only Corps district in the country using this approach. Seen as a national test case, the permitting program sets a damaging precedent for Corps districts across the country.