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The Corps Needs To Do a Better Job of Promoting the Public's Right-to-Know

Comments on the Proposed Reissuance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nationwide Permits: The Corps Needs To Do a Better Job of Promoting the Public's Right-to-Know

August 1, 1996

Despite its limitations, RAMS represents the most complete and comprehensive database of wetlands permitting in the country. It is not clear, however, that the Corps utilized its RAMS database in evaluating the effects of nationwide permits. For example, in preparing its environmental impact analysis for NW26, the Corps makes no reference to the acreage of wetlands and other waters that are likely to be destroyed or damaged by the permit, even though some information upon which such estimates could be based is available in RAMS. The Corps also has offered no county-by-county, or even state-by-state analyses of the effects of nationwide permits--even though these analyses can be undertaken (albeit with some limitations) through a careful review of RAMS data.

The Corps appears to have made only limited efforts to improve the public information base on the effects of NW26 and the other nationwide permits. In practically every other area of environmental law, protecting and fostering the public's Right-to-Know--the right to useful, credible information on the effects of environmental programs and decisions--is a crucial component of environmental protection. However, the public has very little useful information on the effects of the Section 404 program, particularly the Corps' general permitting authorities. RAMS data, for example, are woefully inadequate for many relevant analyses, including basic accounting of the functions and values lost (and gained) through Section 404 permits, on a county-by-county and watershed-by-watershed basis.

The Corps has had ample opportunity to investigate, review and collect information on its general permitting program over the last 5 years, and to make this information available to the public. Nevertheless, the available data, including data from RAMS, are insufficient to make a complete and accurate accounting of the effects of NW26 and the other nationwide permits across the country. Because of poor record-keeping, a lack of active, consistent efforts to monitor the effects of its own actions, and a practice of consistently underutilizing even the limited data that are available to it, the Corps has not succeeded in documenting its claim that nationwide permits, particularly NW26, have minimal environmental impacts. Furthermore, it appears that the limited data available on the effects of NW26 contradict the Corps' claim that the nationwide permit program has minimal environmental effects.