What was once referred to as swamp land and dismissed as a danger, as well as a blot on the wetlands landscape, is now considered as being a valuable asset for the maintenance of wetland habitats. In 1989, the 41st president, former President Bush, declared a "no net loss" policy, meaning that if wetlands are destroyed in a development project, for example, then the resulting loss must be offset by saving, restoring or creating a comparable amount of wetlands elsewhere.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Issues Wetlands Report
In June 2006, The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 issued Public Law 99-645, requiring the Fish & Wildlife Service to produce national wetlands status and trend reports to Congress every 10 years. The report, Status & Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous U.S. was issued for the period 1998 to 2004, which concludes that, "…for the first time net wetlands gains, acquired through the contributions of restoration and creation activities, surpassed net wetland losses." Therefore, on Earth Day 2004, President Bush announced a new wetlands initiative by establishing a federal policy beyond the previous "no net loss" of wetlands guidelines.
In addition to sustaining various flora and fauna, wetlands support healthy fish populations by providing clean water, food production, spawning and nursery areas, in addition to critical refuge for fish and essential aquatic organisms. Wetlands are "nature's kidneys" because they filter and purify our streams, rivers and waterways, thus improving the sustainable environmental health of everglade areas.
Supreme Court Considers Wetlands
In October, 2005, The Supreme Court ruled on the government's authority to regulate wetlands and control pollution, having significant implications for governmental authority in regulating construction in environmentally sensitive areas, as well as on land that is not adjacent to water. The 1972 Clean Water Act allowed cases involving the Supreme Court to use its regulatory authority from the part of the Constitution that gives Congress power to control interstate commerce.
Supreme Court justices reviewed cases, which involved projects in Michigan. One case was approximately one mile from a lake, and the other was nearly 20 miles from a navigable river. The cases were Rapanos v. United States, 04-1034; Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers, 04-1384; and S.D. Warren Co. v. ME Board of Environmental Protection, 04-1527.
The Army Corps of Engineers regulates work performed on wetlands for roughly 100 million acres of wetlands in the United States.
Despite the federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which is a 50-50 state-federal partnership, America's largest wetlands, the Florida Everglades wetlands, is most certainly not being restored. The plan was enacted to provide guidelines for the restoration, preservation and protection of central and south Florida water resources, which includes the Florida Everglades wetlands.
The 43rd president of the United States, President George W. Bush, pledged to restore one million acres of former wetlands across the country over a five year time period, consequently leading to the improvement of the quality of an additional million acres of "at risk" wetlands. The U.S. has been destroying wetlands at an alarming rate of 56,000 acres per year. The Army Corps of engineers and federal wetlands managers have been unable to manage or protect America’s wetlands and the "no net loss" policy has not stopped them from disappearing. As a result, the Florida Everglades are being jeopardized.
In 2000, Congress overwhelmingly passed the $7.8 billion Florida Everglades wetlands restoration package. However, it was less an environmental victory and more of a water-supply project for the sugar industry of Miami. Former President Bill Clinton signed the plan into law and President Bush reached an agreement with his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, to "make sure enough fresh water would go to the Everglades." The restoration project was intended to allow south Florida's waters to flow in the traditional route -- from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades Agricultural Area and Everglades National Park, and into Florida Bay just above the Florida Keys. The Army Corps of Engineers was given a mandate by Congress to develop a restoration plan, but they created a "re-study," which outlined a multitude of new water works plans, instead.
While some of these projects would provide the Florida Everglades wetlands with additional water resources, the idea of restoring the area's original 40-mile-wide shallow waters that have flowed over what is now sugar cane fields, is being compromised. Big Sugar is exerting considerable influence over the Corps' plan. Florida's sugar industries, farm nearly one million acres of the Florida Everglades below Lake Okeechobee. Moreover, the sugar industry costs taxpayers nearly $2 billion a year in the form of tariffs on foreign sugar, in addition to subsidies to domestic growers. The result is that Congress is spending billions of dollars of federal funds, yet the Florida Everglades wetlands are not being adequately restored or managed.
Interchurch Group Lends Weight to Coastal Restoration Campaign
Citing a biblical mandate to keep water clear, one of Louisiana's oldest interfaith groups called on its 15 member denominations, districts and dioceses undertake the stewardship of Louisiana's wetlands and waters as a moral responsibility. The Ezekial 34 Initiative of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference is named for the biblical prophet Ezekiel, who threatened anguish to shepherds who did not take care of their flocks. In the spirit of the Ezekial 34 Initiative, the interchurch group urges Louisiana residents to learn about wetlands and water restoration efforts, and as well as to participate in and organize wetland projects. It also encourages members to lobby on behalf of political support and government funds for wetlands restoration initiatives.
The groups passed a resolution signed by all 25 of its board members including all seven Roman Catholic bishops. Both were Episcopal bishops and representatives for 12 other denominations, in addition to the Church Women United in Louisiana. The denominations ranged from the fundamentalist evangelical Church of Christ to the liberal, works-oriented United Church of Christ. Joining them were members of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
Board members of the interfaith conference, created in 1970, have been board members for the coastal coalition since it was formed in 1988. The interfaith conference notes that Louisiana has 40 percent of the nation's wetlands and that the coastal wetlands are being lost at a rate of nearly 24 square miles per year. It goes on to say that the loss of (wetlands) threatens the livelihoods and economies that depend on the wetlands, and creates an environment where storms and floods likely to be more dangerous.