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EPA Gives Florida Wider Authority Over Wetlands Development

Sun setting over a wetland area.

Supporters say it will help reduce duplication over state and federal permitting and give Florida more control.

The federal government has granted Florida's request for wider authority over wetlands.

The move long sought by developers and Republicans removes key layers of federal scrutiny over developments projects that could make it easier for builders to obtain permits for construction projects on Wetlands.

Supporters praised the move as helping reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and giving Florida more control over such decisions. Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA.

“Our waters and wetlands are critical to our economy and way of life in Florida. As such, it is important for the state to be in charge and take the lead in their protection,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said in a statement released by the EPA. “We are pleased that with the assumption, Florida scientists and permitters will now be accountable for state and federal wetlands permits. DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) staff know the state’s resources best and have the expertise to ensure their protection.”

The action by the EPA came under immediate fire by environmentalists who vowed legal challenges, arguing that the state's inventory of wetlands are now at risk.

“This is a parting gift to developers from the outgoing administration in Washington in coordination with the sitting administration in Florida,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Florida for the environmental law group Earthjustice. “The fact is that Florida’s proposed program to take over wetlands permitting doesn’t comply with federal environmental laws. It’s about destroying wetlands faster and cheaper at a time when we need more protection, not less. We’re considering our options.”

Florida accounts for about a fifth of the country's wetlands.

Authority over wetlands would shift to the state's Department of Environmental Protection just days before President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn into office.

Florida lawmakers in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a bill that was an initial step in trying to move authority for the permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the state. This August, Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted a package to the EPA seeking approval.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.