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Environment

EPA Rule Change Could Help Florida's Disappearing Wetlands

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Credit Kenneth Cole Schneider / Creative Commons

Environmental experts met Tuesday in Naples to discuss massive wetland loss in the state and looming federal policy changes that could help.

The EPA is weighing a big change in how it determines which water bodies it protects under the Clean Water Act.

Right now, those jurisdictions are determined mostly by the federal Commerce Clause. But, due to some recent Supreme Court rulings, the EPA says it’s time to turn to peer-reviewed science.

Thomas McGill is the chief of the Wetlands Coastal and Ocean branch for the EPA in Atlanta. He said right now determining what water the EPA protects is really complicated.

“A lot of our intention is to clear a very confusing landscape right now with respect to what is applicable/what’s not applicable,” he said. “What this rule attempts to do is say here are certain categories of water that are jurisdictional.”

In practice, McGill said these changes will add protections to streams and wetlands. Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said federal wetland protections are badly needed. She said recent studies show that Southwest Florida has some of the highest rates of wetland loss in the country.

“These regulatory protections are not effectively stopping continued wetland loss,” she said. “And wetlands are so important because they are the natural freshwater storage and filtration that provides freshwater storage to our communities, that cleanses water before it goes into our downstream basins and estuaries.”

The EPA is taking public comment on the rule changes—also known as changes to the definition of Waters of the U.S.—until Nov. 14.

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