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USACE Regulatory Program: The Best Determinations for the Nation

Today’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Regulatory Program involves approximately 1,400 regulators working in 38 district offices nationwide. Their mission is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing for reasonable development through fair, flexible, and balanced permit decisions. USACE evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in our nation’s waters, including wetlands. In these evaluations, regulators balance the reasonably foreseeable benefits and detriments of proposed projects/activities, and make permit decisions that recognize the essential values of the nation’s aquatic ecosystems to the general public, as well as the property rights of private citizens who want to use their land.

Chad Konickson from the Charleston District Regulatory Division checks the water levels of a creek while out in the field.

The specific authorities that guide the Regulatory Program include Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899; Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended, also known as the Clean Water Act; and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. During the permit process, USACE considers the views of other federal, state, and local agencies, interest groups, and the general public. The results of this careful public interest review are fair and equitable decisions that allow reasonable use of private property, infrastructure development, and growth of the economy, while offsetting the authorized impacts to the waters of the United States. If impacts to aquatic resources cannot be completely avoided, they are minimized to the maximum extent practicable and adverse impacts to the aquatic environment are offset by mitigation requirements, which may include restoring, enhancing, creating, and preserving aquatic functions.

Regulators evaluate a range of proposed projects/activities to include large-scale traditional and renewable energy projects, public water supply and transportation projects, commercial and residential developments, and mining of critical resources for myriad commercial uses to numerous small landowner proposals to construct driveways, shore protection, and single-family homes.

USACE officials estimate that in fiscal year 2011, regulators performed more than 50,000 jurisdictional determinations and made decisions on more than 50,000 permit applications affecting approximately $220 billion of the nation’s economy.

In addition to their day-to-day efforts, regulators prepare before and during natural disasters in order to provide rapid and accurate response to any requests for permit decisions and jurisdictional determinations to ensure seamless and timely service to the affected public. This includes coordination with other resource agencies and FEMA/State Emergency Management Agencies on emergency permit processing procedures, most recently regulators provided timely evaluations and decisions to emergency permitting requests for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi and Missouri River flooding. Some of the permit decisions processed in preparation for flood events involve activities to protect railroads, utility companies, chemical plants, and public facilities.

Biologist Michael Porter measures a Rio Grande silvery minnow during spring monitoring activities. The silvery minnow is officially registered as an endangered species. USACE regulators make determinations that protect aquatic resources and the public’s interest.

In the years ahead, the Regulatory Program will continue its focus and commitment to evaluating permit applications for actions associated with energy proposals, including cooperating with other federal agencies and expediting review to the maximum extent practicable while ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. Among these are actions associated with a wide variety of energy proposals, from wind, hydrokinetic, including tidal and wave, oil and natural gas exploration, surface coal mining, and solar power. In addition, natural gas proposals including areas in the Marcellus Shale play, located beneath Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and adjacent states, and the Fayetteville Shale play, located beneath Arkansas and adjacent states, will increase dramatically. In late 2011, the Regulatory Program will announce its revised suite of Nationwide Permits. These permits are issued on a national basis for activities that are similar in nature and will have no more than minimal adverse environmental effects, both individually and cumulatively. The current Nationwide Permits expire in March 2012.

This article first appeared in the 2011-2012 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces publication.