"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Drained Dry: Wetlands Protection

On May 16, 1995, the House of Representatives passed the most sweeping bill to weaken federal protections for wetlands--swamps, marshes and similar areas--that has ever been considered by Congress. Among other provisions, the House-passed bill creates a new definition of wetlands that would eliminate protection for 73 million acres of wetlands, or 71 percent of the remaining wetlands in the lower 48 states according to federal officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Agriculture. A bill with an almost identical definition of wetlands is currently pending in the Senate.

Under these bills, many widely recognized and prized wetlands systems, including portions of the Florida Everglades, Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp, wetlands surrounding the San Francisco and Chesapeake bays, and many other wetlands throughout the country, would no longer be recognized as wetlands. Oil and gas extractors, mining corporations, real estate speculators and other wetlands developers would be free to destroy these wetlands with no federal oversight or restrictions whatsoever. Because wetlands act as natural water filters, loss of wetlands that would take place under the two bills would cause substantial harm to water quality in lakes, rivers and streams all across the country.

How it hurts America

  • Of the 104 million acres of wetlands in the country, an estimated 74 million acres--71 percent of the nation's wetlands--would lose all federal Clean Water Act protection under the House and Senate bills.
  • The House and Senate bills would eliminate federal protections for at least 80 percent of existing wetlands in 22 states. In all but 7 states, the two bills would remove at least half of all wetlands from eligibility for Clean Water Act protection.
  • Some states are particularly hard hit. Alabama would lose protection for at least 94 percent of its wetlands. Texas would lose protection for at least 90 percent. New Hampshire would lose protection for 70 to 90 percent of its wetlands. California, which has already lost 91 percent of its historic wetlands base, would lose protection for 70 percent of what remains--paving the way for the eventual loss of all but 3 percent of the state's original wetlands acreage.