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Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

March 1, 1996

Swamped With Cash: Wetlands Protections: Removed by Redefinition

Field tests of the wetlands definition in H.R. 961 and S. 851 yielded dramatic results. In every state, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would immediately and permanently remove protection for a significant percentage of remaining wetlands:

  • For the lower 48 states, the two bills would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for a minimum of 73 million acres of wetlands--a minimum of 71 percent of all remaining wetlands in the country (Figure 2, Table 2, and Table 3.)
  • In 22 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would eliminate federal protections for at least of 80 percent of existing wetlands.
  • In all but 7 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would remove at least half of all wetlands from eligibility for Clean Water Act protection.

Figure 2. In the lower 48 states, at least 73 million acres of wetlands would lose all Clean Water Act protections under S. 851 and H.R. 961.

Bar chart

 

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency reviews of H.R. 961 and S. 851.

Table 2. H.R. 961 would remove Federal Clean Water Act protection from more than 73 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous 48 states.

State Estimated wetlands acreage, Mid-1980's Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under
H.R. 961
Estimated percentage of wetlands that lose protection under
H.R. 961
       
Alabama 3,783,800 3,556,772 94%
Arizona 600,000 450,000 75%
Arkansas 2,763,600 2,072,700 75%
California 454,000 317,800 70%-90%
Colorado 1,000,000 700,000 70%
Connecticut 172,500 97,290 56.4%-85%
Delaware 223,000 189,550 85%
Florida 11,038,300 5,519,150 50%
Georgia 5,298,200 4,763,082 90%
Idaho 385,700 323,988 99%
Illinois 1,254,500 1,129,050 90%
Indiana 750,633 750,633 100%
Iowa 421,900 379,710 90%
Kansas 435,400 339,612 78%
Kentucky 300,000 285,000 95%
Louisiana 8,784,200 3,777,206 43%
Maine 5,199,200 2,095,278 40%-71%
Maryland 440,000 308,000 70%
Massachusetts 588,486 153,006 26%-64%
Michigan 5,583,400 4,745,890 85%
Minnesota 8,700,000 5,220,000 60%
Mississippi 4,067,000 2,806,230 69%
Missouri 643,000 610,850 95%
Montana 840,300 630,225 75%
Nebraska 1,905,500 1,429,125 75%
Nevada 236,350 189,080 80%
New Hampshire 200,000 139,600 70%-90%
New Jersey 915,960 824,364 90%
New Mexico 481,900 433,710 90%
New York 1,025,000 820,000 80%
North Carolina 5,689,500 4,978,313 88%
North Dakota 2,490,000 1,369,500 10%-100%
Ohio 482,800 386,240 80%
Oklahoma 949,700 940,203 99%
Oregon 1,393,900 1,031,486 74%
Pennsylvania 499,014 424,162 85%
Rhode Island 65,154 26,062 40%-69%
South Carolina 4,659,000 4,551,843 98%
South Dakota 1,780,000 1,157,000 65%
Tennessee 787,000 621,730 79%
Texas 7,612,412 7,231,791 95%
Utah 558,000 251,100 45%-70%
Vermont 220,000 66,000 30%-83%
Virginia 1,074,613 827,452 77%
Washington 938,000 891,100 95%
West Virginia 102,000 81,600 80%-90%
Wisconsin 5,331,392 3,198,835 60%
Wyoming 1,250,000 887,500 71%
       
Total, Contiguous U.S. 104,374,314 73,978,817 71%

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency field tests.

Table 3. S. 851 would remove Federal Clean Water Act protection from more than 74 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous 48 states.

State Estimated wetlands acreage, Mid-1980's Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under
S. 851
Estimated percentage of wetlands that lose protection under
S. 851
       
Alabama 3,783,800 3,632,448 96%
Arizona 600,000 420,000 70%
Arkansas 2,763,600 2,487,240 90%
California 454,000 317,800 70%-90%
Colorado 1,000,000 700,000 70%
Connecticut 172,500 97,290 56.4%-85%
Delaware 223,000 189,550 85%
Florida 11,038,300 7,174,895 65%
Georgia 5,298,200 4,763,082 90%
Idaho 385,700 320,131 99%
Illinois 1,254,500 1,003,600 80%
Indiana 750,633 750,633 100%
Iowa 421,900 337,520 80%
Kansas 435,400 330,904 76%
Kentucky 300,000 285,000 95%
Louisiana 8,784,200 3,777,206 43%
Maine 5,199,200 2,095,278 40%-71%
Maryland 440,000 198,000 45%
Massachusetts 588,486 153,006 26%-64%
Michigan 5,583,400 4,745,890 85%
Minnesota 8,700,000 4,611,000 53%
Mississippi 4,067,000 2,806,230 69%
Missouri 643,000 610,850 95%
Montana 840,300 630,225 75%
Nebraska 1,905,500 1,429,125 75%
Nevada 236,350 189,080 80%
New Hampshire 200,000 139,600 70%-90%
New Jersey 915,960 824,364 90%
New Mexico 481,900 433,710 90%
New York 1,025,000 820,000 80%
North Carolina 5,689,500 4,978,313 88%
North Dakota 2,490,000 1,369,500 10%-100%
Ohio 482,800 386,240 80%
Oklahoma 949,700 940,203 99%
Oregon 1,393,900 1,031,486 74%
Pennsylvania 499,014 424,162 85%
Rhode Island 65,154 26,062 40%-69%
South Carolina 4,659,000 4,551,843 98%
South Dakota 1,780,000 1,157,000 65%
Tennessee 787,000 590,250 75%
Texas 7,612,412 6,851,171 90%
Utah 558,000 251,100 45%-70%
Vermont 220,000 66,000 30%-83%
Virginia 1,074,613 827,452 77%
Washington 938,000 891,100 95%
West Virginia 102,000 81,600 80%-90%
Wisconsin 5,331,392 2,825,638 53%
Wyoming 1,250,000 887,500 71%
       
Total, Contiguous U.S. 104,374,314 74,410,275 71%

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency field tests.

It should be noted that these loss estimates represent a minimum, or lower bound, of the wetlands acreage that would be affected by the two bills. In some states, including many New England states, the evaluation teams provided a range of estimates for the acreage that would lose protection under HR. 961 and S. 851. The acreage figures cited in this report use the lowest value in the range as the "point estimate" for the acreage of wetlands that would lose protection. (See Note 2.)

Proponents of H.R. 961 and S. 851 have argued that the two bills would only affect "drier" wetlands systems--areas that an average person might have difficulty identifying as wetlands. Federal field tests show otherwise. When asked to describe the types of wetlands that would lose protection under the two bills, field teams mentioned, among other wetland types:

  • Sweetbay and red maple swamps, bottomland hardwood wetlands, and swamp hardwoods;
  • Many bogs and fens;
  • Riparian (river-related) wetlands;
  • Vernal pools, including rare vernal pool systems in California;
  • Carolina bays;
  • Non-tidal marshes, inland fresh marshes, coastal high marsh, saltmarsh;
  • Floodplain wetlands; and
  • Wet prairies, wet meadows, and saturated mountain meadows.

While not all of these wetlands are flooded or saturated year round, they are recognized as wetlands both by scientists and by the general public. Furthermore, they provide significant wetlands functions and values, including, in many cases, maintenance and improvement of water quality.

 

What the field teams had to say about H.R. 960 and S. 851

In their state-by-state evaluations of S. 851 and H.R. 961, the officials who would be responsible for implementing the wetlands definition established by the two bills provided detailed comments on the effects that the bills would have on wetlands delineation in their states. Almost universally, the field teams found that the bills violate so profoundly violate the principles of wetlands science that many wetlands systems would simply not be defined as wetlands under the two bills.

Here's what some of the field teams had to say:

  • Alabama. "Essentially all of the wetland systems which are saturated with groundwater will be eliminated from jurisdiction. These include essentially all of the pine flatwood wetlands, pine savannahs, and scrub-shrub wetlands which have a seasonally high water table. In addition, most of the sweetbay/red maple swamps and seasonally flooded bottomland hardwood forests occurring in the second terraces of floodplains will be affected."
  • Alaska. "Loss of wetland classification for all forested wetlands (temperate rain forest), most black spruce forested and scrub-tussock areas, many moist tundra and some wet tundra areas (permafrost areas), many bogs and fens, and most riparian wetlands."
  • Delaware. "Virtually all of [the affected] systems are flooded or saturated throughout the spring, drawing down in summer."
  • Louisiana. "We estimate that at least 73% of all non-tidal wetlands would become deregulated."
  • Missouri. "No major rivers within Missouri and almost no streams and creeks will result in 21 days of consecutive out of bank flooding, during the growing season, on a frequent basis. With the exclusion of soil saturation as a component of wetland hydrology, remaining wetlands will generally be steep sided oxbow channels and cutoff channels; man made impoundments (lakes and wildlife management areas) and borrow pits."
  • Oregon. "The growing season for these [warmer] areas would now be defined as about April 20 through October 30. This equates to a loss of about 45 days in the spring for documentation hydrology. These 45 days are the critical "wet" period for the temporary and seasonally flooded wetlands for western Oregon and probably western Washington and much of California."
  • South Carolina. "It was the consensus of the testing team that even though some of the hydric soils...might meet the hydrology duration criteria in H.R. 961 and S. 851, flooding would occur outside the newly proposed growing season. Therefore, these soils that flood for long periods would not be considered as jurisdictional wetlands."
  • Texas. "Logic should allow team members to easily deduce that the tidal wetland hydrology could easily be met...However, scientifically tested logical deductions (best professional judgment) were not presented as acceptable tools in the proposed resolution's wetland delineation methodology...Any delineation methodology should relate directly to scientific findings from actual field tests. The proposed resolutions contemplate criteria based on arbitrary (non science based) standards."
  • Washington. "The high salt marshes found all around the Puget Sound region may only be influenced by periodic storm surges. These areas are clearly recognized by the general public as wetlands, however, the specific requirements of the bills may exclude them from jurisdiction."

 

 

What the field teams had to say about wetlands and water quality

In virtually every state, field evaluation teams mentioned that the wetlands that would lose Clean Water Act protections under H.R. 961 and S. 851 help to keep rivers, lakes and streams clean and healthy. Here's what some of the field evaluators said:

  • New England States (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont): "Primary wetland functions and values affected: ...Water quality: Retention of sediments; removal or degradation of toxicants and pathogens; retention or transformation of nutrients, for which seasonally saturated wetlands are particularly important because of their fluctuating water table.
  • Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina: "Water quality functions: (1) Sediment and toxicant trapping; (2) Filtration of pollutants; (3) Chemical and nutrient absorption; (4) Nutrient cycling; (5) Oxygen production"
  • Louisiana: "Affected wetlands provide essential water quality...functions."
  • Maryland: "Primary wetland functions and values affected: water quality, groundwater recharge/discharge...detrital export...pollutant removal."
  • Michigan: "Primary wetland functions and values affected: Water quality - impact on headwater wetlands, filter surface runoff, water temperature maintenance of stream fishery environments.
  • Mississippi: "Wetland functions and values associated with these wetlands habitats include water quality...sediment and toxic chemical retention...erosion control.
  • New Jersey: "Water quality of the Delaware River system and the various coastal bays could be adversely affected if jurisdictional areas are lost due [to] the House and Senate Bills. Wetlands in metropolitan New Jersey serve to filter out nutrients and sediments that would, without the wetlands, degrade the quality of water...Degraded waters would detract from tourism, commercial fishing and recreation.
  • Oregon: "With the potential loss of wetland under the proposed bills, nearly all types of functions and values would be affected. Of the wetlands types discussed...the primary functions affected would be maintenance of water quality, retention of flood waters, [etc.]."
  • Texas: "Since the impacts are on the majority of the state's wetlands, it is safe to assume that ALL functions and values will be affected. This would include significant impacts on water quality, wildlife habitat and human usages."

 

Notes

2. The North Dakota evaluation team did not provide an overall estimate for the total amount or percentage of wetlands that would lose protection in the state under the two bills. Instead, it provided estimates for wetlands losses based on the type of wetlands that would be affected, ranging from 10 percent losses for permanently flooded wetlands to 100 percent for temporarily and seasonally flooded wetlands. Weighing the relative frequency of these wetlands types, and based on estimates for neighboring states, EWG used a conservative, mid-point estimate that 55 percent of all remaining wetlands would lose protection in North Dakota under H.R. 961 and S. 851.