Trump Freeze on Rules Lifted for Builders’ Wetlands Permits

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By Amena H. Saiyid

Homebuilders and others who want to build in wetlands will be able to use new streamlined permits authorizing such activities before the Trump administration’s 60-day regulatory freeze ends.

The revised nationwide permits that speed up the authorization of construction activities in wetlands can take effect on March 19 as scheduled after the White House granted a waiver to the freeze on new rules Feb. 8.

The White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs granted an exception to the regulatory freeze for the 2017 revisions to nationwide permits, which were published in the Federal Register on Jan. 6 (82 Fed. Reg. 1,860) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, corps spokesman Doug Garland told Bloomberg BNA.

The corps had urged the White House a day earlier to grant an exception to the nationwide permits. The request came after the National Association of Home Builders, which relies heavily on the nationwide permits, asked the OMB and the agency Feb. 3 for either an exclusion for these streamlined permits or an expedited review by March 18.

In the Feb. 3 letter, Owen McDonough, the association’s environmental policy program manager, told the White House that postponing when developers can use the dredge-and-fill permits would result in substantial costs and permit delays.

“The impacts on public works, land development, construction, and the nation’s economy at large under a lapsed NWP program would be substantial,” McDonough wrote.

The nationwide permits are general permits that authorize dredge-and-fill activities in wetlands and streams with minimal adverse impacts for a variety of projects, including mining, home building, agriculture, manufacturing and road construction

McDonough said that only 5 percent of Clean Water Act dredge-and-fill authorities are issued in the form of individual permits, which require more time-consuming site-specific considerations, while the vast majority are issued as nationwide permits each year.

The nationwide permits fell under the 60-day review period the White House ordered in a Jan. 20 memo of all published regulations, which hadn’t yet taken effect. The White House ordered the delay in effective dates of any new federal rules, permits or guidance to give the new administration an opportunity to review any new regulations coming into effect. At the same time, the memo gave agencies an option to exclude any regulations from the regulatory freeze that affect “critical health, safety, financial, or national security matters, or for some other reason.”

Forcing the corps to issue individual permits for projects that were authorized under a streamlined nationwide permit would bring the economy to a “screeching halt,” Steven Stockton, who until two months ago served as the director of the corps’ civil works program, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 8 interview.

“That is counter to what the executive order is intended to do,” said Stockton, who serves as a senior adviser on permitting issues to Dawson & Associates in Washington, D.C. He said approval of an individual permit for a small project can easily take up to 90 to100 days and even more for larger projects.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington, D.C., at asaiyid@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The Feb. 3 letter is available at http://src.bna.com/l4r.

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