The other day, I was looking through the New Orleans Corps of Engineers Website, exploring their Regulatory Department. This is the department that is supposed to enforce the Clean Water Act by making sure our nation's waters and wetlands are not unnecessarily harmed by those that want to dredge, fill, or develop them. However, it becomes very obvious that the Corps thinks that it their primary role is to grant permits, not necessarily protect our wetlands. This is made obvious by their permitting FAQ, that states:
Q. Why should I waste my time and yours by applying for a permit when you probably won't let me do the work anyway?
A. Nationwide, only three percent of all requests for permits are denied. Those few applicants who have been denied permits usually have refused to change the design, timing, or location of the proposed activity. When a permit is denied, an applicant may redesign the project and submit a new application. To avoid unnecessary delays pre-application conferences, particularly for applications for major activities, are recommended. The Corps will endeavor to give you helpful information, including factors which will be considered during the public interest review, and alternatives to consider that may prove to be useful in designing a project.
So, the Corps approves 97% of all of the permits that they see! And they seem very proud of this fact. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps is supposed to first, and foremost, avoid unnecessary wetland impacts, and I don't see how a 97% permit approval rate reflects this. This demonstrates that the Corps is in serious need of reform--the agency that is in charge of repairing our disappearing Gulf Coast wetlands is at the same time facilitating their destruction, one permit at a time.
Matt Rota is the GRN Water Resources Program Director