The Swamp Stomp
Volume 15, Issue 20
On April 30, 2015 the US House of Representatives voted (241-181) to pass H.R. 1732 – Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015. This bill is now scheduled to move onto the Senate for a vote. If they have the votes in the Senate it will move onto the President who as indicated that it will be vetoed. To be frank this bill is entirely political and largely too little too late. However there are some key points in this Bill that are worth discussing.
At the heart of the bill is the call for the complete cessation of rulemaking with regards to the definition of “waters of the US.” The Bill is broken down into three parts and is merely 12 pages long. This is quite a relief as the Corps and EPA page count on the new “waters of the US” rule exceeds over 1,000 pages of text amongst a number of supporting documents.
Section 1 is the title, “Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.” It is a bill to, “To preserve existing rights and responsibilities with respect to waters of the United States, and for other purposes.”
Section 2 calls for the withdrawal of the existing prosed rule. “Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Army and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall withdraw the proposed rule described in the notice of proposed rule published in the Federal Register entitled ‘‘Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act’’ (79 Fed. Reg. 22188 (April 21, 2014)) and any final rule based on such proposed rule (including RIN 2040–AF30).”
The few news agencies that have even bothered to pick up this story seem to end at this section. You can check out the cutting edge news from places like Greenhouse Management, Springfield News Leader, Real Estate Rama, and the Daily Signal. This does not make the front page of the NY Times by any stretch. However, the next section in the bill is extremely interesting and a bit disturbing and largely undiscussed.
Section 3 calls for the development of a new proposed rule by the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers. It specifically requires that the Agencies consider public comments, review and economic analysis of the rules and incorporate the “scientific” analysis done by the EPA “Science” Advisory Board.
I use big quotes when describing this report as scientific. No scientific study was conducted. The report is merely a mediocre cut and paste job of selected papers written by others.
The Bill does add two new dimensions to the process that thus far have not happened. It designates the States and local officials as stakeholders and requires that their input be considered. Many States already have afforded “waters of the State” protection to non-Federal jurisdictional waters. This new provision in the Bill alleviates that awkward aspect of the Clean Water Act that provides for the State to establish jurisdiction over waters (Section 404 (g) of the CWA). The states would relinquish their role in establishing jurisdiction to the federal government by enjoining themselves in the new process as stakeholders. This would be as opposed to the current situation wherein they self govern. So much for state’s rights.
The second and most significant point in the entire Bill is that the Agencies must consider the rulings of the Supreme Court when crafting the new rules. To be even more frank, I cannot believe that such a provision would have to be added to a Bill. If the government adopts rules that are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings it is by definition unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that the US government does not have universal reach in what it claims to be “waters of the US.” The 2001 SWANCC decision is at the heart of the EPA/Corps “waters of the US” rule.
In 2001, The Supreme Court confirmed that there are some waters that are beyond the reach of federal jurisdiction. In the preamble of the proposed EPA/Corps rule, the Agencies state that it was always the position of Congress that all wetlands are jurisdictional. However, in 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that this is not the case. Is it appropriate for the Agencies to speak for Congress and defy the Supreme Court?
In the 2012 Sackett case, Supreme Court Justice Alito called out Congress to show some leadership and develop a reasonably clear rule defining “waters of the US.” This latest Bill is a far cry from that. It basically goes back to the same two Agencies and asks them to start the entire process again using the same data set and expecting a different result. You may recall what Albert Einstein said about the definition of insanity.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
At the heart of this entire mess is a clear lack of leadership. Our elected representatives need to step up and stop hiding behind the Agencies to solve this problem. It is the job on Congress to establish the limit of Federal jurisdiction and not the Agencies. The Executive branch administers the laws as passed by the Legislative branch. In all fairness to the Executive branch, these “waters” rules are not clear and it is understandable why they would seek clarity. However, designating a private landowner’s property as being “of the US” is perhaps something left to the democratic process rather than mandated by a Federal Agency.
The need for clear rules about what is subject to federal jurisdiction is needed. Our current rules are confusing and seem to keep heading to court. However, in my humble opinion these rules should come from the consent of the governed rather than being mandated by the government for our own good. It was just a few years ago when our government suggested that pouring oil on a wetland was a good idea for the control of mosquitoes. See if you can find a copy of the “Winged Scourge” which was a government produced public information movie. It was the governed that stood against this practice and had it repealed. In the end it is the wisdom of the people rather than the whims of politics that shape our laws. Politics is about pleasing the masses to maintain power. Wisdom is the recognition of truth.
Have a great week!
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 15, Issue 19
Rhode Island has received support from both the construction industry and environmentalists over a new statewide regulation that would change the required distance for construction near wetlands. If approved, this new standard would permit construction much closer to wetlands in six Rhode Island communities, and gift the state rule over deciding on zoning exemptions.
Currently, a 50-foot no-build zone acts as the default benchmark for the state, but 24 communities use different buffer standards. Areas in Barrington, Burrillville, Charlestown, Middletown, North Smithfield, and Tiverton all have setbacks, the required distance between construction and wetlands, of up to 200 feet. This new proposed standard, however, would change the state setback to 100 feet from lakes and ponds, and 200 feet from rivers, streams, and reservoirs.
All coastal wetland permits would still be managed by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which already requires a 200-foot setback, but all other wetland permits would fall under state jurisdiction.
Both the construction industry and environmentalists agree that the proposed tradeoffs are worth the end result. The construction industry looks forward to having universal setbacks across the state, as well as having a single location, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), to file permit paperwork and seek exemptions. Environmentalists, on the other hand, like that new water sources, such as streams, vernal pools, and areas near floodplains, would be designated as wetlands.
On March 25, 2015, during a Senate Committee on the Environmental and Agriculture hearing, Janet Coit, DEM director, claimed, “It increases protection and eliminates a municipal level of permitting process.”
The proposal is a result of five years of failed attempts by the Rhode Island Builders Association (RIBA) to establish universal setback standards and speed up the permitting process. Concerned about losing open space, diminishing water quality, and damaging vital ecosystems, environmentalists have opposed changes proposed in the past.
Despite this opposition, the “dry-lands bill” was passed in 2013 that created a study commission to develop changes to the standard. Negotiations between the construction industry, biologists, civil engineers, and state environmental agencies and municipalities then occurred for over a year. These efforts resulted in the new proposal that is agreed upon by all effect parties.
Tom Kutcher of Save the Bay served as one of the scientists on the task force. While he claims that the gold standard for wetlands buffers is about 500 feet, he acknowledges that the proposed legislation improves protection over the status quo.
“What’s in the bill falls short of full wetlands protection. It falls short of what the science says what should protect wetlands,” Kutcher said. “But we recognize that there is a compromise between entire wetlands protection and having something we could come to a consensus on.”
During the recent Senate meeting, construction advocates praised the new proposal as it will prevent what they perceived to be arbitrary rules and a general resistance to development that prevented permits from being attained.
Timothy Stasiunas of RIBA claimed, “This type of scenario has contributed to the lost decade . . . that has plagued our economy for years, if not decades.” He continued to claim that the new standards will lead the state out of recession.
The proposed legislation does not fully protect wetlands, but it is a compromise that will provide better protection than is currently being administered.
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 15, Issue 18
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario recently released a study supporting the EPA’s proposed rule for protecting discontinuous wetlands. The study demonstrated that smaller marshy areas function better when acting as part of a group.
These small wetlands create interconnected pockets that together form a mosaic-esc landscape and allow for unique habitats and safe breeding grounds for species such as salamanders and migratory birds. Traditional wetlands conservation projects often overlook the significance of such functions, and focus solely on preserving total wetland area. When this happens, the larger ecosystem suffers due to the lack of consideration given to different wetland types.
Published in Ecological Applications, a peer-reviewed journal, the study shows a strong and steady decline of wetlands, with smaller detached wetlands fronting the majority of the blow. While the number of larger wetlands continue to decrease as well, the rate of smaller wetlands is much greater.
Doctoral student Kim Van Meter and Professor Nandita Basu from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science argue that not only have large quantities of smaller isolated wetlands been drained, but those wetlands that have survived suffered extensive perimeter loss due to the shape of the wetland becoming much simpler.
Basu also released another paper in the journal Bioscience, that described how these small and geographically isolated wetlands act as landscape filters. Do to being located on the outer edges of ecosystems, these wetlands are able to prevent excess nutrients, sediments, and contaminants from flowing into larger waterways.
Regrettably, many restoration efforts only focus their attention on restoring wetland area without taking into consideration the type or size of the wetland being restored. While it is important to restore wetlands, it is equally important to restore the natural filtration systems that will help protect the restored wetlands.
“We didn’t expect to see such a strong, preferential loss of smaller wetlands,” claimed Basu, who is also a member of the Water Institute. “It’s not just a local phenomenon. Smaller wetlands are the least protected under most environmental regulations.”
Van Meter added, “Many people would say ‘What’s the big deal if we drain this small area’. But these smaller wetlands are integral to a larger wetland network.”
Van Meter and Basu used several high-resolution remote sensing images, elevation data, and the U.S. National Wetlands Inventory database in their paper to compare historical wetland areas with current boundaries in the Des Moines Lobe section of the Prairie Pothole Region.
Since European settlers arrived more than two centuries ago, the region has lost over 90 percent of its wetlands. Van Meter claimed that while the study pertains strictly to the prairie region, the problem extends to all regions. In Ontario, between 70 and 80 percent of wetlands have ceased to exist since the 1800’s.
Basu and Van Meter hold the belief that current restoration approaches can and must be dramatically improved. They expect to expand the framework they used in the report to southern Ontario and incorporate the results into a modeling tool in order to assist decision makers maximize restoration processes, and decide which areas ought to be preserved.
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 15, Issue 17
The Army Corps of Engineers named property in Minnesota owned by The Hawkes Co., Inc., Pierce Investment Company, and LPF Properties as “wetlands” under a “Jurisdictional Determination.” This decision meant that the Corps gained regulatory authority over the land. The companies, however, appealed and brought a legal challenge over the regulatory finding.
The appeal, spearheaded by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) representatives, argues that Jurisdictional Determinations, “wetlands” designations under the Clean Water Act, are final agency actions subject to judicial review.
This latest attempt to appeal decisions about what properties deserve to be labeled “wetlands” follows the Sackett v. EPA landmark decision in 2012, whereby the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that if the EPA effectively seizes control of private property by declaring it as “wetlands,” then the landowners hold the right to a direct and meaningful judicial review.
The case was a result of the EPA issuing a “compliance” order directing Mike and Chantell Sackett to immediately stop the construction of their house, and to return the land to EPA standards. The Sackett’s land is 500 feet away from Priest Lake in Idaho, and the two are separated by another house and a road. It would have cost the Sacketts $27,000—$4,000 more than they paid for the land—in order to comply with the order.
When describing the process, Mike Sackett claimed, “As this nightmare went on, we rubbed our eyes and started to wonder if we were living in some totalitarian country.” This message was echoed by his wife, who said, “Bullying—that’s what the EPA does. They came into our lives, took our property, put us in limbo, told us we can’t do anything with it, and then threatened us with fines.”
Despite being told by the EPA that they could not get a direct court review, and if they failed to obey the “compliance” order then they would be charged with fines of up to $75,000 per day, the Sacketts appealed and won.
Damien Schiff, PLF Principal Attorney, said afterwards, “EPA is not above the law. That’s the bottom line with today’s ruling.” Mr. Sackett then added, “The EPA used bullying and threats of terrifying fines, and has made our life hell for the past five years. Now the Supreme Court has come to our rescue.”
Following this precedent that allows landowners to appeal directly to the judiciary from a federal wetlands “compliance order,” PLF, arguing on behalf of the Hawkes Co., Inc., Pierce Investment Company, and LPF Properties, convinced the Supreme Court to rule that landowners hold the right to judicial review when federal regulators label their land as “wetlands” subject to federal control.
M. Reed Hopper, PLF Principal Attorney, said, “This historic ruling is great news for everyone who values accountability in government and Americans’ access to justice. When Clean Water Act officials assert control over someone’s private property, they should be prepared to defend, in court, their claim that the property is, in fact, jurisdictional wetlands. Their decisions should not be insulated from scrutiny and examination, as if the regulators were a law unto themselves.”
This ruling underscores the importance of keeping accurately documented wetland delineations. Now, any project may end up in court to be reviewed, and the delineator will need to defend their work by presenting proper and up to date paperwork.
Volume 15, Issue 16
On April 6, 2015, Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a blog post claiming that public concern over the Clean Water proposal is helping to shape the final rule.
A draft of the rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget on April 3, 2015 for interagency review. McCarthy refused to divulge what changes were made to the rule. She said, “Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail.”
However, McCarthy did claim that the “spirit of the rule” can be reduced to three simple facts. “First,” she said, “people depend on clean water: one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection.”
“Second, our economy depends on clean water: manufacturing, farming, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other major economic sectors need clean water to function and flourish,” she continued.
“Third, our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems support precious wildlife habitat and pristine places to hunt, fish, boat, and swim.”
The draft of the Clean Water Rule was first released a year ago. Over one million public comments from farmers, ranchers, manufactures, business owners, hunters and anglers, and many others have since made their way to the EPA. McCarthy assured the public that “in the final rule, people we see that we (the EPA) made changes based on those comments, consistent with the law and science.”
Then, without disclosing any specific aspects of the newly drafted rule, McCarthy did share in the blog post the following points that the EPA were considering when writing rule:
- Better defining how protected waters are significant. A key part of the Clean Water Rule is protecting water bodies, like streams and wetlands, which have strong impacts downstream – the technical term is “significant nexus.” We will respond to requests for a better description of what connections are important under the Clean Water Act and how agencies make that determination.
- Defining tributaries more clearly. We’ve heard feedback that our proposed definition of tributaries was confusing and ambiguous, and could be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field, when that’s not our aim. So we looked at ways to refine that definition, be precise about the streams we’re talking about, and make sure there are bright lines around exactly what we mean.
- Providing certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule will protect wetlands that are situated next to protected waterways like rivers and lakes, because science shows us they impact downstream waters. We will provide a clear definition about what waters are considered adjacent waters.
- Being specific in the protection of the nation’s regional water treasures. We heard concerns that the category we called “other waters” in the rule was too broad and undefined. We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected.
- Focusing on tributaries, not ditches. We’re limiting protection to ditches that function like tributaries and can carry pollution downstream—like those constructed out of streams. Our proposal talked about upland ditches, and we got feedback that the word “upland” was confusing, so we’ll approach ditches from another angle.
- Preserving Clean Water Act exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. We will protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal agriculture practices like plowing, planting, and harvesting a field have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; this rule won’t change that at all.
- Maintaining the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. Some state and local governments raised questions about waters within these permitted systems. We listened carefully as we did not intend to change how those waters are treated and have considered ways to address this concern. We will also continue to encourage the use of creative solutions like green infrastructure and low-impact development, as many of these communities have advocated.
It is surprising that while many of these considerations deal with clarifying issues, none of the changes made to the rule were publicly released. Instead, the EPA sent the rule to the White House for review. It is expected that this final rule will be passed in a matter of weeks, allowing no time for public comment. Considerations and intent are valuable, but not as valuable as the specific words written in the rule. By sending the rule for official review without releasing any specifics, and not opening the rule up for any public comment, the EPA has simply worked around public opinion and will have a rule passed that may or may not be similar to the one previously proposed.
Volume 15, Issue 15
During the National Farmers Union convention in Wichita on March 16, 2015, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed regret about how the EPA handled the controversial “Waters of the U.S.” rules.
Following U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, McCarthy spent the majority of her 30-minute speech claiming that she wished her agency had done a better job of explaining how EPA defined which bodies of water were regulated under the Clean Water Act.
McCarthy asserted, “I’m really concerned that we weren’t crystal clear out of the gate, not just about what we intended to do but about what we intended not to do, because it left all kinds of room for people to wonder not just what the words said but what we are trying to accomplish.”
Despite her regret over how the effects of rule were communicated, however, McCarthy is adamant that the EPA’s end goal will be met and the final rule be issued. She said that the rule is currently on its way to the Office of Management and Budget and is expected to be issued this spring.
After recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, EPA is currently rewriting the rule, but McCarthy remains adamant that the need for the rule is clear. However, she did attempt to clarify what the rule would and would not intend to do. She provided the following assurances:
- In response to numerous criticisms, McCarthy assured the public that EPA would not regulate puddles, land, or Fourth of July fireworks.
- Addressing the worry that regulating “tributaries” could mean just about anything, McCarthy stated that EPA has established clearer definitions.
- The rule does not include erosional features.
- McCarthy claimed that roadside and irrigational ditches are not included, but ditches that are natural and constructed streams that can carry pollution downstream and act like tributaries are included.
- Waters initially labeled as “other waters”—a term McCarthy conceded was too ill-defined—are in the process of being more narrowly stated by officials using their “best judgment.” However, the results of clarifying vague terms with even vaguer qualifications will most likely do little to quell concerns.
The main message of McCarthy’s speech was that farming and ranching should remain unaffected by the rule. “The exclusions and exemptions for agriculture . . . this rule we will not touch,” she said.
During Vilsack’s address, farm productivity was a major talking point. Farmers today are 12 times more productive then they were in 1950. Subsequently, Americans only spend 10 percent of their income on food, 15 to 20 percent less than many of the other countries in the world.
Vilsack also raised many concerns, including how to best introduce the next generation of farmer to the profession, labeling country origin of beef and pork in supermarkets, and how to best develop tools and support conservation and local agriculture, such as farmers markets.
“This isn’t just about farming. This isn’t just about agriculture. This is about rural life and maintaining the value system alive and well in the rural communities.”
While Vilsack is not forwardly addressing the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, he is assisting McCarthy paint an image of what the rule intends to do. The ambiguity of McCarthy’s speech did little to rid farmers and ranchers of their concerns, and her acknowledgment that the rule was not communicated as well as it could have been is somewhat diminished by “clarifying” points with terms that themselves are ambiguous.
Volume 15, Issue 14
A new and comprehensive map of the Great Lake region’s coastal wetlands has been released by the Michigan Tech Research Institute that manipulates fluorescent bands of color to outline the great lakes. This new map is the first of its kind applied to such a broad scale, and is the only one that outmaneuvers political boundaries by displaying both Canadian and US wetlands along the more than 10,000 miles of shoreline.
The Michigan Technological University focuses a great deal of attention on the Great Lakes, and this coastal map is evidence of years of work expanding on previous maps created through the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI).
Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, MTRI research scientist and the project leader for the wetlands map, claimed that having a standard method of mapping all of the regions wetlands, free of any inconsistencies that could affect data analysis and the implementation of management strategies, was crucial. She said, “This is the first map to span the entire basin, and it’s important to have a consistent map over the entire area.” She continued to claim that inconsistencies occur “if you don’t know the accuracy of the map or how it’s changing from one place to another.”
Wetlands are effect by a lot of change each year, some natural changes, but mainly as a result of human interaction. Bourgeau-Chavez asserted, “We’ve lost more than 50 percent of coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes over the past century. The wetlands are very important because they serve as filtration as well as habitat—and a lot of them are being degraded.”
The map uses satellites that are orbiting at roughly 200 miles above the earth’s surface to map the wetlands using remote sensing, a term used to represent imagery and measurement techniques collectively. By studying the area from a distance, a lot of ground is able to be covered quickly and easily.
Bourgeau-Chavez and her team used three-season PALSAR remote sensing data, a 23 cm wavelength Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). SAR is especially helpful for mapping wetlands because the technique is capable of distinguishing flooded ground, vegetation’s vertical structure, soil moisture, and the total mass of vegetation. All of these wetland aspects may vastly differ between seasons, so the satellite data was collected in each season except winter.
Remote sensing is not foolproof, however. Mixed readings, caused by overlapping pixels in data, blurred some of the maps boundaries, and, subsequently, made vegetation difficult to distinguish. Therefore, Bourgeau-Chavez and her team supplemented the remote sensing data with extensive field checking at over 1,400 separate field sites. It is only through field visits that the predominant vegetation, which is important for tracking invasive species like Phragmites and cattails, can be verified.
Field visits also allowed the researchers to map the different types of wetlands that were not separated by remote sensing. For example, the map displays peatlands as separate wetlands, because the bogs are sometimes mined for peat, and, therefore, contain large amounts of carbon.
Bourgeau-Chavez says, “An emergent wetland that doesn’t have any, or very little, peat at the surface is very different from a peatland with peat that is meters deep.”
There are many other factors considered in land use management other than monitoring urban and agricultural proximity, invasive species, and different water types, so a variety of uses were incorporated into the mapping interface. Viewers are also able to simply view the data they are searching for by clicking on the button below the legend.
Susan Hedman, EPA’s Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager, said, “This Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project—made possible by an EPA grant—produced updated coastal wetlands maps that will help the United States and Canada better target efforts to restore critical habitats and to protect native aquatic and terrestrial spaces in the Great Lakes Basin.”
This map is a step forward in attempts to accurately map out constantly changing wetlands. The satellite imagery is able to stay up-to-date with changes to the region, and thus keep pace with the changing terrain.
Volume 15, Issue 13
On March 17, 2015, Republican Glen Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, held a public hearing in order to examine the definition of the proposed “Waters of the United States” rule and its impact on rural America.
Legislated in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) initiated a federal-state government partnership that was intended to more appropriately regulate and manage the nation’s water by means of various pollution and control programs. The CWA asserts that it is the “policy of the Congress to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of State to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution, to plan the development and use (including restoration, preservation, and enhancement) of land and water resources, and to consult with the [EPA] Administrator in the exercise of his authority under this Act.”
During the hearing, several members of the House Committee on Agriculture claimed that by proposing the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, the Administration has acted on its own, without any input from either states or stakeholders, in order to widen the federal jurisdiction granted under the CWA, which, subsequently, threatens the livelihood of farmers, ranchers, and rural America.
Chairman Thompson said, “Despite strong bipartisan opposition from Congress and the public, the Obama Administration has acted to expand its federal authority. The EPA’s proposed rule could have serious consequences for our nation and prove to be a severe detriment to our economy, with a particularly strong impact in rural counties. Hasty movement from the EPA will only invite costly litigation, burden states and counties with compliance costs, and create obstacles to building and replacing our national infrastructure.”
Thompson continued, “Rather than strengthening the law, this rule creates more confusion. These actions highlight a disturbing pattern of an Administration that is out of touch with farmers, ranchers, and rural land owners. The testimony received today further outlines the need for the EPA to either pull the rule and move for further consultation with states, countries, and stakeholders, or re-purpose the rule and allow a new round of public comment. There is too much on the line to continue down the current path.”
Republican Kenneth Michael Conway, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, also spoke at the hearing. He asserted, “I strongly support legislation to block the “Waters of the United States” rule and hope we can put legislation to this effect on the president’s desk, whether as a stand-alone bill, as part of a larger measure, or both. The better route, of course is for EPA and the Corps to pull this regulation, work with state and local stakeholders to develop new and proper set of recommendations, and submit these recommendations to Congress for consideration and approval.”
The witness list at the hearing was comprised of two panels. The first panel included the Honorable Jeff M. Witte, the Honorable Robert ‘Pete’ Smeltz, Mr. Joseph S. Fox, and the Honorable Martha Clark Mettler. The second panel consisted of Ms. Ellen Steen, Mr. Jonathan Gledhill, Mr. Russ Biggica, Mr. Sledge Taylor, and Mr. Steve Foglesong.
The Administration will issue a final regulation this spring without any additional time for public review and comment, despite receiving over one million comments prior to the public comment deadline last autumn. EPA officials claim that changes will be made to the regulation to reflect comments, but without granting themselves and additional time to review the proposal before it would go into effect, there is increasing concern over what actions EPA may take.
Volume 15, Issue 12
Alex Goad, an industrial design student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, developed a Modular Artificial Reef Structure (MARS). Influenced by Lego, each branched module is constructed from concrete and then coated with a textured ceramic that creates the optimal surface for marine life to thrive. Each module then clamps together, similarly to Legos, to form endlessly customizable artificial reef habitats.
Typical coral reefs are structured on calcium rich coral skeletons. This means that it can take centuries for coral ‘rubble’ to accumulate and form the ideal habitat for a flourishing reef. Furthermore, the calcium based skeleton is constantly threatened by growing climate change, pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices.
Both large storms and damaging fishing methods, such as dynamite fishing, are capable of destroying reefs within seconds, wiping out their inhabitants and calcium foundation in the process. This results in reef-building animals, such as corals and sponges, having no place to rebuild.
This new MARS system, however, can greatly reduce the time necessary to restore ravaged foundations. Goad claimed, “Reefs do naturally repair themselves, but this can take decades. Just like how we re-plant trees, we must start re-planting reef environments.”
Goad’s modular design provides a way for artificial reefs to be built cheaply and easily on site. By using small boats and one’s own hands, the process is completed within a matter of days.
“The idea is that once the MARS arms are transported to the development area…the hollow ceramic form is filled with marine concrete and composite rebar, utilizing local labor and concrete manufacturers,” Goad said.
Goad began working on his MARS idea after witnessing firsthand the shortcomings of current reef restoration processes. He said, “I’ve always been obsessed with SCUBA diving and snorkeling. I noticed a lot of the product-based artificial reefs seems incredibly outdated and did not provide adequate protection for all creatures that would use it.”
Once MARS modules are joined together, they interrupt water flow, trap food particles, and, subsequently, create refuges for small animals. Smaller independent trials have been conducted in Port Melbourne, Cairns, and several aquariums, but Goad is now searching for development opportunities to build these reefs on a larger scale.
Goad has started to work with David Lennon, a marine scientist and developer from Sustainable Oceans International who has worked extensively on artificial reefs. Goad’s focus on design paired with Lennon’s practical experience with artificial reefs allows the two to lift the MARS project to the next level.
Lennon said, “Alex approached me when he was working on his final year project at university. I could immediately see the merit behind the concept. Alex brought the essential element of design, which was something that I was lacking so far.”
Goad and Lennon have started Reef Design Lab, a not-for-profit company that implements designer reefs for habitat conservation.
The innovative MARS system has been recognized by the design industry, and Goad recently won the Hills Young Australian Design Sustainability Award, the James Dyson Foundation Design Award, and the graduate prize for Best Product Design from Monash University.
Open Public Comment Period for Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Interim Final Rule Now Open
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 15, Issue 11
On February 26, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement program (ACEP). The program intends to assist producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. ACEP is a result of the 2014 Farm Bill that consolidated three previous conservation easement programs in order to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.
Vilsack said, “Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. This interim final rule takes into account recommendations from agricultural landowners and conservation stakeholders about how to better streamline and enhance conservation easement processes.”
Administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), ACEP is a voluntary program created to protect and restore critical wetlands on both private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component, as well as conserving grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland, and shrubland. Farmers, ranchers, and non-industrial private forest landowners are also encouraged to maintain their private and tribal land in a state of agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component.
State, local, and non-governmental organizations that implement farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible under ACEP’s agricultural land component to partner with USDA in order to purchase conservation easements. In recent years, NRCS’ easement programs have been an essential aid to the advancement of landscape-scale private lands conservation.
During the 2014 fiscal year, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to admit an estimated 143,833 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements. In Florida alone, ACEP funds purchased 6,700 acres in the Northern Everglades Watershed that support the restoration and protection for the habitats of a variety of listed species, such as the Wood Stork, Crested caracara, and the Eastern Indigo Snake. Further funds were used in Georgia to complete the Roundabout Swamp project by employing 270 acres of the Carolina Bay to assist the restoration and protection of the entire bay ecosystem to historic hydrology and vegetation.
ACEP’s agricultural land easement also provides numerous benefits to landowners and citizens. The easements assure the long-term sustainability of the nation’s food supply by preventing productive working lands being converted into land used for non-agricultural purposes. Other benefits pertain to environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open spaces.
Furthermore, under the ACEP’s wetland component, NRCS provides both technical and financial aid to private and tribal landowners in order to assist restoration, protection, and enhancement of wetlands. This funding provides habitats for fish and wildlife, including endangered and threatened species, improves water quality by filtering out sediments and chemicals, reduces damage from flooding, recharges groundwater, protects biological diversity, and provides opportunities for educational, scientific, and some recreational activities.
The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim rule can be found at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/02/27/2015-03781/agricultural-conservation-easement-program. Public comment remains open for 60 days. Any electronic comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov/#!home. Comments can also be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705. For more information, please refer to the ACEO page at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/easements/acep/ or the Farm Bill Program Rules at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/?cid=stelprdb1263599.