Big Wetlands Losses Plotted for Green Power

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933;
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Big Wetlands Losses Plotted for Green Power

Corps Prepares Broad Exemptions for Solar, Wind, Geothermal & Tidal Facilities

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is finalizing new rules allowing the
destruction of wetlands and streams and ocean floor to accommodate
renewable power facilities, according to a document posted today by
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The Corps is
using a regulatory device designed for actions that have minimal
cumulative adverse effects on the environment, but the scope of its
draft permits could permit massive losses of freshwater swamps, streams,
and ocean habitat.

The Corps’ draft would establish what are called Nationwide Permits
for land-based renewable power generators (listed as wind, solar and
geothermal power), offshore wind and solar arrays and tidal or other
“hydrokinetic energy generation facilities.”  In most areas of the
country, Nationwide Permits limit or eliminate review by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service, and
National Marine Fisheries Service.

“This would enable green power to gratuitously create brown
consequences,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that
wetlands and coastal protections have not inhibited renewable power
siting.  “The thinking behind this proposal is that green energy
facilities have no other environmental impacts but that is demonstrably
untrue when you consider the impacts wind turbines have on birds or the
heavy water usage of many solar plants.”

Under the Clean Water Act, a permit must be denied if there is a
practicable alternative that will cause less harm.  Moreover, if the
proposed activity is not water dependent, there is a legal presumption
that less environmentally damaging alternatives exist.  Many of the
projects covered under the proposed Nationwide Permits are not
necessarily water dependent and can have major adverse effects,
including –

  • The Corps would allow loss of an acre of wetland per project, an
    area much larger than most other Nationwide Permits.  For example, the
    Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound would build 130 industrial-sized
    turbines covering more than 25 square miles of ocean, yet the turbine
    poles themselves occupy only two-thirds of an acre and the entire
    project would qualify for a permit;
  • Sensitive areas can be piecemealed to death with thousands of
    individual projects, each receiving a Nationwide permit, such as
    dispersed photovoltaic arrays; and
  • The exemptions also cover parking lots, roads, power lines and other “attendant facilities”.

“This is all about paving over places that are needed for our
ecological health,” said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a
former regional wetlands coordinator with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency.  “These exemptions are not narrowly constructed. 
They are written to create open-ended blanket exemptions that are not
subject to further review. The need to move from carbon-based power
should not become a pretext for trashing habitat.”

These Corps proposals are still in draft form but are intended for
submission to the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period. 
The Corps has made no public announcements about its timetable.
 

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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