STATEMENT BY SENATOR BARBARA BOXER
June 26, 1997
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
WETLANDS OVERSIGHT HEARING

Mr. Chairman, today we will hear about the future of our country's wetlands, an issue of vital concern to the people of California.

When California became a State in 1850, the State had an estimated five million acres of wetlands. Today there are less than 450,000 acres left, a loss of more than 90%. These 4.5 million acres of wetlands were lost to urbanization, agricultural expansion, and flood protection measures.

Most people agree that wetlands are important. They function as a conveyance for floodwaters, as barriers to erosion and in sediment control. They are vital for the continued existence of both waterfowl and many important fish species. Wetlands are treasured for their aesthetic properties and as recreational sites. They provide some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in our country.

Most of our country's remaining wetlands are on private lands. Understandably, these private land owners have a keen interest in the future of these lands.

The focus of the national debate then is not should we protect wetlands, but rather how do we best balance the protection of wetlands with an individual's right to manage his or her property?

Today we will hear how effectively the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency is finding this balance.

We will hear about Nationwide Permit 26. This permit was established by the Corps in 1977 to allow certain activities with minor environmental effects to be conducted in headwaters and isolated waters with little or no individual review by the Corps. Unfortunately, the environmental effects of these activities have not been minor. The California Department of Fish and Game says ". . . Nationwide Permit 26 has resulted in significant adverse environmental impacts in California." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that in northern California alone, more than a thousand acres of wetlands have been filled between 1987 and 1994, under Nationwide Permit 26.

In December, 1996, the Corps issued an interim Nationwide Permit 26 that will expire in two years. Today we will hear how implementation of the permit has affected wetlands and development activities. I support the Corps' efforts to assess the effects of this permit and I look forward to working with them during the interim period on development of a final rule due in 1998.

Another issue we will hear about today is the Tulloch Rule, which was established jointly by the Corps and the EPA to close a major loophole in the Clean Water Act.

The loophole allowed a developer in North Carolina, using sophisticated ditching techniques, to drain and destroy 700 acres of valuable wetlands to build a golf course and related facilities, all without a Clean Water Act permit. This activity not only destroyed wetlands, but also flooded neighbors' property and polluted nearby streams.

In response to a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation over this particular development, the Corps and the EPA developed the Tulloch Rule in August 1993. This rule was designed to protect wetlands from unrestricted destruction. The rule was immediately challenged in a lawsuit by the American Mining Congress. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturned the Tulloch Rule earlier this year. The Department of Justice has appealed that decision.

I hope that the Appeals Court will reinstate the Tulloch Rule because I see it as an important tool to be used by the Corps in meeting the stated purpose of the Clean Water Act: "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters."

Today, I look forward to hearing and discussing the pertinent facts.

I also think it is critical that we look at how to make the permitting process more efficient for legitimate activities.

Lastly, I believe we need to look at ways to help the enforcement agencies in carrying out their important mandates for the protection of the waters of the United States.

Finding the proper balance between streamlining the permitting process while at the same time protecting our water resources will continue to be a challenge. But it is a challenge that we must meet to ensure a sound economy and a healthy environment.

As we listen to our panelists and as we engage in our discussions, let us never lose sight that the Clean Water Act was enacted to protect the lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands of this country. For the sake of our children and all the generations yet to be born, we have a sacred obligation to protect what is left of this very precious resource.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.