Sierra Club: Christie Declares War on Wetlands

Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

 

Christie Declares War on Wetlands

 

Today the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is hosting a hearing regarding their new Freshwater Wetlands Rules. In 1988, New Jersey passed the Comprehensive Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act. With these rules, the Christie Administration is rolling back the protections from the Act. They’re aligning the Wetlands Rules with the Flood Hazard and Stream Encroachment Rules and by doing so, they are substantially weakening them. These rules clearly violate the Freshwater Wetlands Act in many areas and will lead to the destruction of critical wetlands. These rules will remove important protections and allow construction of pipelines and other projects through environmentally sensitive wetlands.

 

“These rules create open season on New Jersey’s wetlands. Wetlands are critical for the environment; they protect against flooding, improve water quality, recharge aquifers, and provide important habitat. We have lost more than half of our wetlands in the last 200 years and we can’t afford to lose more. Wetlands belong to all of us and we need to do better to protecting them. That’s why we are opposing these rules that will destroy wetlands,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These rules are part of Christie’s ongoing attacks on clean water including the Flood Hazard Rules and CAFRA rules to weaken protections and increase development.”

 

The Freshwater Wetlands Rules will destroy many of New Jersey’s wetlands because they weaken protections and allow for more destruction. The rules violate the Freshwater Wetlands Act because of the following points:

  • It allows for permit-by-certification where a developer can certify that the project meets the standards or rules themselves. They can basically give themselves the permit without oversight. This is a clear violation of the Wetlands Act.
  • It allows for new general permits with conditions. General permits are supposed to have de minimus impact, and should not need conditions. Having conditions means they are trying to get around the law.
  • It also allows for large projects such as quarries, pipelines, highways, and other damaging projects.  They allow for permits to last for 10 years, which under the law should only be five years before renewal. This change clearly violates the rules.
  • The rule is not tied to the Water Quality Certifications, such as the 401. This means that they can fill in a wetland without looking at water quality impacts. This violated both the Wetlands Act and the Clean Water Act.

The rules also include the following changes that would weaken protections for wetlands:

  • The rule allows for “temporary disturbances,” which does not exist. Destroying vegetative cover, soil, or anything in a wetland is not temporary, but will have long-lasting effects on the wetland.
  • It allows for utility crossing and maintenance that makes it easier for pipelines and powerlines to be built, destroying wetland habitat.
  • It allows you to turn wetlands into open waters, which clearly destroys the wetland altogether. There are plenty of ponds and open waters already but wetlands are scarce and should not be converted.
  • It allows for stream cleaning activities in transition areas, even if they end up destroying wetlands.
  • It allow you to play games with buffers and transition areas. You can get waivers that get past disturbance limits.
  • It changes the general permits in the Wetlands Rules to be consistent with the weaker, more damaging Flood Hazard Rule general permits. This includes GP2, which makes it easier to build pipelines through wetlands.

“The rules allow for even more mitigation that will not work. Mitigation is just a Ponzi scheme that allows for the destruction of a perfectly good wetland as long as you mitigate it elsewhere. This ignores localized impacts and doesn’t deal with flooding and water pollution. Mitigation banks usually fail altogether. On paper, you can mitigate by creating new wetlands but in reality, this doesn’t work. Mitigation does not deal with localized impacts and cannot be considered an appropriate method to use when regulating wetlands,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

Protecting wetlands is especially important considering climate change. Wetlands act as an important part of flood protection and help reduce the flood hazard level. These wetlands also protect water quality, while recharging the aquifer and offer an important natural habitat. New Jersey is facing the consequences of sea level rise and climate change and protecting wetlands will help protect our communities.

 

“These rules put our wetlands at risk, rather than protect them. We need to make sure we are conserving these environmentally sensitive and important areas. Wetlands provide $150,000 per acre for environmental and flood control benefits, according to the DEP’s own report. One acre of wetlands can hold back more than a million gallons of water during a heavy rain. New Jersey is one of only two states with delegation from the federal government for wetlands, meaning that our standards should be stronger than ever. Instead of updating the rules for enhanced protections, they’re opening them up big enough to drive bulldozer through,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Governor Kean’s biggest environmental legacy was enacting the 1988 Freshwater Wetlands Act to protect these important areas and their services. Now Governor Christie wants to destroy that legacy and our wetlands.”

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