Washington, DC-- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is directing its staff to expedite wetland development permits to spur "economic development and moving money into the economy" following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, according to an E-mail released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, Corps records show steady declines in inspections, enforcement and wetland restorations.
PEER has assembled a comprehensive, multi-year tabulation of Corps permit and enforcement performance through Freedom of Information Act requests to every Corps district. The resulting 'Corps Report Card' shows that:
* The number of wetlands restored under Corps auspices has declined by more than half since 1992.
* The Corps is denying almost no permits and taking very few enforcement actions. Inspections and site visits are at their lowest level.
* The Corps has doubled its reliance on Nationwide and Regional Permits (types of relaxed regulatory review permits based on categorical exclusions), issuing more than 60,000 in 2000. Meanwhile, individual permits that require environmental evaluations have declined every year. Despite these numbers, this month the Corps is proposing to further weaken wetlands protections in their Nationwide Permit standards.
"The Corps has become a regulatory car wash, moving permits along in assembly line fashion," stated PEER Board member Magi Shapiro, a former long-time Corps project manager. Noting President Bush declared 'no net wetland loss' goal for the Corps regulatory program, Shapiro added, "The Corps has no idea whether they are moving toward or away from this our national goal because the Corps program is only a facade in which staff must make complex environmental decisions based on mere glances at paperwork."
In a September 21 e-mail, John Studt, Chief of the Corps Regulatory Branch admonished his staff to expedite development projects because, "The harder we work to expedite issuance of permits, the more we serve the Nation by moving the economy forward."
"The Corps regulatory staff includes many of the finest professionals in public service but suffers under dysfunctional leadership," Shapiro concluded.