Sinking Money Into Sunken Wetlands
The Clean Water Act aims to restore and maintain the integrity of U.S. waters, which include wetlands — those land forms once referred to as swamps, bogs, prairie potholes, or some other negatively connoted term. Wetlands are ecologically and economically important. The federal regime for protecting them, however, has failed its pursuit of “no net loss” of wetlands. Mitigation banking has become the preferred mechanism for mitigating wetlands loss, despite repeated studies showing mitigation banks fail to replace the lost natural ecosystems. This paper explores the complex wetlands protection regime in the United States, then compares results in steady-state Ohio wetlands, a best case scenario for mitigation banking, with the nation’s largest (and most at risk) wetlands — those on Louisiana’s coast. It concludes that mitigation banking on Louisiana’s coast is likely to result in massive destruction and loss of the fragile coastal ecosystem.
The Mythology of Mitigation Banking
46 Environmental Law Reporter 10200 (2016)
Mitigation banking is unlikely to deliver on its promise that there will be no net loss of wetlands. Rather than sinking money into rebuilding sunken wetlands that are destined to be inundated by the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana’s policymakers should focus resources on protecting natural resources from development and destruction by facilitating an orderly retreat from the coast.
Image courtesy of USFWS, via Flickr.