Wetland goal -- Re-institute efficient regulatory framework. By Gary Garczynski

Regulatory changes for wetlands development activities recently announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) are disappointingly inadequate. They largely mirror existing National Wetland Programs (NWPs) and will bring only marginal relief to builders and developers. And since they fail to provide a federal wetlands regulatory program with a streamlined permitting process, as mandated by Congress under the Clean Water Act (CWA)--and perpetuate other errors within the NWP program--the NAHB has determined that it has no choice but to continue to pursue the legal action against the Corps that it initiated in 2000.

For the first time in the 25-year history of the program, the Corps' changes will not add significant restrictions to the use of NWPs, and that is certainly a positive development. However there must be significant changes if we are to bring back the streamlined permitting process envisioned by Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act. The NAHB's goal is to re-institute a lawful and efficient wetlands regulatory framework.

Complex history

At their inception in the 1970s, NWPs were intended to be an efficient and effective mechanism for U.S. wetlands' regulation. But over the years, the CWA Section 404 program and the NWPs have become increasingly more stringent and complex and less useful for builders, while adding few if any tangible environmental benefits.

There's no doubt that the NWPs final rules announced recently will bring some improvement because they clarify certain requirements, provide more flexibility for the Corps' district engineers to make decisions based on what is best environmentally for their specific areas, and provide more certainty for developers and others. Corps failings

But unfortunately the Corps still has not addressed the major problems with the program. It has failed to re-establish the efficient permitting process for wetlands regulation.

What's more, the Corps has also failed to provide sufficient scientific data to justify the restrictions on use of the NWPs and is extending its jurisdiction over areas and activities that it has no legal authority to regulate.

By failing to fully consider and address the housing industry's concerns, the Corps is merely making small steps in the right direction instead of facing the issues head-on.

Press on

[Illustration: John Hansel]

We will not witness or permit piecemeal reform, and we will press on in the courts, in Congress, and with federal agencies to make sure that rational and efficient wetlands regulation is once again instituted. Until there is an efficient wetlands regulatory system that balances environmental protection with regulatory efficiencies, builders will continue to contend with unwarranted regulations that unnecessarily increase housing costs and price home buyers out of the market, while providing negligible environmental benefits. That's unacceptable.