HTML _ 97-849 - Wetlands Mitigation Banking: Status and Prospects
12-Sep-1997; Jeffrey Zinn; 17 p.

Abstract: Wetland protection is controversial because the federal government regulates activities on private lands and because the natural values at some of these regulated sites are being debated. This controversy pits property owners and development interests against environmentalists and others who seek to protect the remaining wetlands. Mitigation banking, which allows a person to degrade a wetland at one site if a wetland at another site is improved, has been identified as a potential answer to this shrill and seemingly intractable debate. Mitigation banking is relatively new, and federal mitigation banking policies continue to evolve. It was first endorsed by the Bush Administration. The Clinton Administration subsequently endorsed the concept in 1993, and the Corps and EPA issued detailed direction to field staff concurrently. Five federal agencies published final guidance in the Federal Register in November 1995 providing a framework to support a functioning banking system. In addition, many states have initiated or are considering banking programs. Banking can occur only after three steps are taken in the federal process for protecting wetlands. First, wetland development must be avoided if possible; second, when this it is unavoidable, impacts must be minimized; and third, impacts that can not be minimized to an acceptable level must be mitigated. Mitigation banking is an option only when mitigation on-site is not possible. Bank sponsors create wetland ¨credits¨ at a bank site that can be acquired by those who fall within the purview of these two programs and are required to offset wetland losses, or ¨debits,¨ at other sites. Congressional interest is building because mitigation banking appears to be a promising approach for offsetting wetland degradation and implementing an overall policy goal of ¨no net loss.¨ While the recent growth in the number of mitigation banks suggests expanded interest and support for this approach, several years or more may elapse before success (or failure) at individual sites can be determined. This time lapse is one reason why mitigation banking is controversial. Supporters claim that mitigation banking, when compared with mitigation on-site, provides better-organized planning, an improved regulatory climate, greater commitment to long-term wetland protection, and more consolidation of habitat. Opponents are concerned that banking is a loophole and endorses additional wetland destruction, that some types of wetlands are difficult to create or restore as thriving ecosystems, and that wetland losses are sometimes allowed before the bank is fully functional. More generally, supporters view policy flexibility as critical to success, especially for commercial banks, while critics worry that flexibility will lead to unacceptable losses of wetland functions and values. Congress is hearing about these benefits and concerns as it considers how mitigation banking might be incorporated into future wetland protection laws and programs. [read report]

Topics: Wetlands

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