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U.S. Army Corps Reissues Nationwide Permits, Adds Two New Ones

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reissued 50 existing nationwide permits (NWP), general conditions (GC) and definitions on Friday, a process completed every five years that the corps said will streamline the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In a statement, the USACE said it used the "extensive feedback" it had received from the public and key stakeholders to reissue the existing permits, with some modifications. The corps also issued two new NWPs and one new GC. All were published Friday in the Federal Register as part of a final rule and will take effect on March 19, replacing existing permits that expire the day before.

"Our goal in developing and authorizing nationwide permits every five years is to update them, and provide clarity and certainty for the regulated public while protecting the aquatic environment," said Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, USACE deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations. "Our nationwide permits are an important tool in encouraging project proponents to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources."

The new NWPs address the removal of low-head dams (NWP 53) and the construction and maintenance of living shorelines (NWP 54). The USACE also revised NWP 48, which covers existing commercial shellfish aquaculture activities.

The corps said it did not propose any changes to NWP 8, governing oil and natural gas structures on the Outer Continental Shelf, or NWP 12, which covers utility line activities. The USACE said it had received several comments urging it not to reissue the permits, in large part due to concern over climate change.

"One group of commenters requested a public hearing on the proposed NWPs because of their concerns about the permitting of oil and gas pipelines," the USACE said. "Another organization requested a public hearing because of the proposal to reissue NWP 48.

"We denied the requests for a public hearing on the proposed 2017 NWPs because we determined that a public hearing is unlikely to provide information that was not already provided through the thousands of comments we received on the proposal to reissue NWP 12, and the many comments we received on the proposed NWP 48."

Under Section 404(e) of the CWA, the USACE has the authority to issue general permits for activities that, either individually or collectively, pose a minimal threat to the environment. The permits can be issued for no more than five years. "Most of the nationwide permits announced today have no major changes from 2012, the last time the nationwide permits were authorized in accordance with the law," the corps said.

The permits are also not related to the controversial Clean Water Rule (CWR), which the USACE promulgated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The CWR was designed to clarify what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS), thereby deserving protection under the CWA. Republican lawmakers in Congress, eagerly awaiting the incoming Trump administration, have promised to rescind the CWR.

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