Trump Administration Move to Redefine Water Rule Threatens Wetlands Banks

(From AP News)

On the western edge of the Florida Everglades sits 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) of gator-infested swampland, and a private firm is making big money selling it off.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn’t another Florida land boondoggle, but rather is part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island’s owners preserved one of the nation’s last stands of virgin bald Cyprus, a place where wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna have returned since they removed invasive plants.

These banks, in turn, sell “wetlands mitigation credits” to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. Now it’s a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

Now the market is at risk. An executive order signed by President Donald Trump in February 2017 seeks to replace the rule known as Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

If implemented, this new rule being prepared by Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency would reduce the number of wetlands under federal protection and thereby the need for developers to buy mitigation credits.

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