DEP Receives EPA Approval for Oversight of Federal Wetlands Program

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DEP Receives EPA Approval for Oversight of Federal Wetlands Program

Signing of Florida's 404 Assumption

~Florida becomes first state in more than two decades to assume delegation of this program, third state in the nation to be granted this authority~ 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that after many years of thoughtful deliberation and preparation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the state assumption of the 404 program (the federal permitting program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into wetlands and other waters of the United States). In 2018, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that authorized Florida to kickstart the state assumption process. After a thorough federal and public review period, coupled with thorough internal preparation, DEP has been approved to adopt the federal 404 program and enhance the protection of Florida's wetlands.  

“Florida continues to be a pioneer of environmental protection. This is a historic moment for our agency and our state,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “We appreciate EPA’s stringent public review and approval of DEP’s assumption of this program. Our waters and wetlands are critical to our economy and way of life in Florida. As such, it is important for the state to take the lead in their protection. We are pleased that with the assumption, Florida scientists and permitters will now be accountable for state and federal wetlands permits. DEP staff know the state’s resources best and have the expertise to ensure their protection.” 

State assumption utilizes the local expertise of DEP’s more than 200 environmental experts to further protect Florida’s diverse and unique natural resources. These capable team members are already responsible for managing Environmental Resource Permitting standards and will bring the same level of dedication to implementing the State 404 program.  

“Our staff possesses the technical expertise necessary to run the 404 program effectively, offering increased consistency and efficiency to our stakeholders, and increased protections for Florida’s environment,” said Deputy Secretary of Regulatory Programs John Truitt. “None of these efforts were undertaken in a vacuum – we have weighed public and internal feedback and have worked closely with the EPA and our stakeholders to get us to this point. It has been a team effort from the start.”

Many of Florida’s restoration efforts, such as Everglades projects, have been delayed by the federal permitting program. Florida is known for overseeing the largest wetland restoration project in the world, as well as many other environmental projects. Assumption of this program allows DEP to harness state resources to more quickly permit these key projects. 

Temperince Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, said, “The expeditious restoration of our natural systems is a top priority for the state and The Nature Conservancy. The state’s assumption of the federal dredge and fill permitting program under Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act is a positive development that we hope will result in more timely decisions by staff with specific expertise in evaluating Florida’s unique wetland systems. Considering most environmental restoration projects require a 404 permit, adoption of the permitting program should provide much needed benefits to Florida’s natural systems and its residents.” 

"The state of Florida’s assumption of Section 404 permitting should enable Everglades restoration to proceed with the sense of urgency it deserves while maintaining the high level of review and protection required by the Clean Water Act," said Eric Eikenberg, CEO, Everglades Foundation. "We expect the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to exercise its new authority in a manner that protects Florida’s precious and diminishing wetland resources. Wetlands safeguard Florida communities from the effects of climate change, provide tremendous water quality benefits, support fish and wildlife habitat, and mitigate against flooding."

Jeff Beal, regional biologist with Ducks Unlimited in Florida said, “The restoration of our freshwater and brackish wetlands and associated habitats is paramount to continuing Florida’s legacy of promoting good stewardship of these key habitats for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Ducks Unlimited works across the nation with state and federal partners to conserve and restore wetlands and is supportive of this effort in Florida because it could help expedite restoration projects by allowing us to work more closely with state agencies such as DEP that have demonstrated the ability to handle streamlined administration for specific purposes.” 

"This is great news for our state. Florida engineers work closely with the scientists at DEP, and we believe they possess the technical expertise and local knowledge of Florida's water resources and needs. In addition to the benefits of this expertise, a comprehensive state-run program will provide regulatory efficiencies and reduce delays for critical restoration and infrastructure projects while providing stringent protection of Florida’s natural resources," said Steven Folsom, PE, chair, Conservation and Environmental Quality Committee, Florida Engineering Society.

State 404 assumption will localize and strengthen DEP’s environmental protection efforts, streamline permitting procedures and eliminate the duplicative reviews that halt progress on both public works and environmental projects. The majority of review requirements overlap between programs and integrating these processes at the state level will provide greater certainty to the regulated community and conserve the time and resources of both applicant and regulator.  

“Florida’s environment, our waterways and our wetlands are what make the state unique. DEP and our partners have worked diligently to develop science-based solutions to key environmental issues, and it’s crucial that these solutions are implemented in a timely and efficient fashion,” said DEP Chief Science Officer Dr. Tom Frazer. “The State 404 program will ensure the prioritization of critical environmental infrastructure projects and guarantee that local environmental experts with a vested interest in and intimate knowledge of Florida’s natural resources are at the helm.”