Groups Challenge Army Corps of Engineers’ Refusal to Protect Puget Sound Shorelines

Corps’ Seattle District violates Clean Water Act, endangers Sound recovery
May 21, 2018

Seattle, WA —A lawsuit filed today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) charges that the agency has refused to assert its Clean Water Act jurisdiction over most shoreline armoring in Puget Sound, and that endangered species and Sound shorelines are suffering the negative impacts of the Corps’ continued inaction.

Washington Environmental Council, Sound Action and Friends of the San Juans filed the suit after the Corps rejected a science-based government recommendation to correct its unlawful definition of the Seattle District Corps’ jurisdiction over shoreline armoring projects.

The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, is calling for federal oversight of shoreline armoring by raising what the Corps’ Seattle District considers the “high tide line” in order to better protect at-risk species and the shorelines themselves. The lawsuit also calls for a response to the groups’ 2015 petition asking for jurisdictional decisions on four shoreline armoring projects. The groups contend a strong federal policy to protect shorelines is critical to Puget Sound recovery.

“Shoreline armoring impairs the health of Puget Sound by damaging nearshore habitat important for forage fish that feed salmon,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound director for Washington Environmental Council. “Currently, federal agencies don’t consider impacts from these structures, because their definition of what constitutes ‘the shoreline’ is too lax.”

Background

Armoring is the placement of hard structures — boulders, jetties, seawalls — on shorelines to help prevent erosion. The Corps is required by law to review proposed armoring projects up to the “high tide line,” which is generally the line at which land meets the water. But the Corps’ Seattle District uses a much lower tidal marker (known as the “mean higher high water” mark). As a result, the Seattle District does not review the majority of armoring projects in Puget Sound.

The Corps’ failure to assert jurisdiction means there has been no federal oversight of whether most armoring projects in the Sound meet the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act or any other federal requirement.

Further, the Corps recently rejected an interagency recommendation to use a higher tidal marker, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits arbitrary and capricious agency actions. In rejecting the recommendation, the Corps ignored sound science and the law.

“The Corps has known for years that its high tide line marker in Puget Sound is unlawfully low,” said Anna Sewell, Earthjustice attorney for the plaintiffs. “But the Corps put its head in the sand and rejected a science-based recommendation from three regional federal agencies — including the Seattle District Corps itself — to protect 8,600 acres of shoreline area by raising that marker.”

This troubling lack of federal support puts Puget Sound shorelines at risk of further deterioration, particularly when shoreline armoring is well documented to be one of the most significant risks to the Sound.

“Puget Sound is already on the brink of collapse due to continued habitat loss, and it’s critical that the laws put in place to protect nearshore ecosystems are both followed and enforced,” said Sound Action Executive Director Amy Carey. “Unless we act now, the forage fish, the salmon and the orcas that are so desperately struggling to survive will be lost forever. It’s up to all of us to ensure this doesn’t happen — and it starts by holding the permitting agencies accountable for doing their jobs.”

“By disavowing its statutory authority, the Corps has shielded harmful projects from a review of their impacts on critically endangered and culturally vital Northwest species,” added Kyle Loring, staff attorney, Friends of the San Juans. “Its high-tide interpretation also leaves state and local governments on their own, at a time when our publicly-funded agencies should be working together to do everything in their power to protect what remains of our region’s rich heritage.”

The Corps must respond to the lawsuit within 60 days.

Reporter Resource

Read the brief.

Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Politics – New Yorker

William Ruckelshaus, who ran the E.P.A. under Nixon and Reagan, said that Pruitt and his top staff “don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency.” Margaret Talbot reports. (New Yorker) See also: The E.P.A. Says It Wants Research Transparency. Scientists See an Attack on Science. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/climate/epa-scientific-transparency-honest-act.html Lisa Friedman reports. (NY Times)

 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/02/scott-pruitts-dirty-politics

Cantwell helps secure $25M increase in the Land and Water Conservation Fund

From Cantwell’s office:

As the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell fought back against the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the country’s most successful conservation program, and secured a $25 million increase in funding over last year’s levels. The funding also includes specific allocations for Washington state projects, including $1 million for Lake Chelan Natural Recreation Area, $5 million for Okanagan National Forest, $6.3 million for the Forest Legacy program in South Puget Sound, and $2 million for the Dewatto Headwaters. Cantwell has long promoted the program, touting its importance for conservation and its positive economic affects for Washington state. In March of 2017, she introduced a bill to permanently authorize and fully fund the LWFC, and she has steadfastly defended the program in the face of attacks.

Puget Sound cleanup survives Trump attempt to kill it -Seattle PI.com

Glad to hear that we continue to get money for the clean up of Puget Sound, a project that will take probably as long as it’s taken to pollute it. But the work will continue.

Of course the trade off is that the military budget was given more than ever. And the Navy will likely continue it’s expansion throughout the northwest Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Trump administration failed in its efforts to wipe out money to clean up Puget Sound and other waterways from Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes, as Congress has refused to dry up spending on water programs. Puget Sound gets $28 million as part of $8.08 billion in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The Trump administration had wanted to slash EPA’s budget to $5.7 billion, in real dollars its lowest spending in 40 years. The money is contained in a mammoth omnibus federal spending bill, passed Thursday by the House of Representatives and due for final action Friday in the Senate. [The bill passed the Senate and awaits the President’s signature.] Joel Connelly reports. (SeattlePI.Com)

 https://www.seattlepi.com/local/politics/article/Connelly-Puget-Sound-cleanup-survives-Trump-12775110.php

Governor Signs Ban on Atlantic Salmon

Grateful for all the legislators, tribal leaders and environmentalists who backed and pushed this through. Sad that it took a disaster to get this done, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Now the lawsuits begin, and Tim Eyman is apparently going to try and get an initiative put in place to overturn this.

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/

The whole bill language is here.

http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/House%20Passed%20Legislature/2957.PL.pdf

The environmental wins and losses in Olympia this year – Crosscut

A good overview of the session.

Even with Democrats in charge of the Legislature, environmentalists struggled on climate, clean water and orca protection.

You won’t pay an extra dime to fight climate change for every gallon of gasoline you buy. Puget Sound stands to be a tad better protected from oil spills when oil-tanker traffic jumps sevenfold, increasing the risk of a spill. And while your current microwave popcorn bag or burger wrapper likely contains a cancer-causing chemical today, your future purchases — starting in 2022, or perhaps later — aren’t supposed to.

Those are among the mixed environmental results from this year’s whirlwind 60-day session of the Washington state Legislature — marked by a few environmental firsts but also some significant losses for the greens on climate change that go beyond their inability to pass a carbon tax.

 

https://crosscut.com/2018/03/environmental-wins-and-losses-olympia-year?utm_source=Sightline%20Institute&utm_medium=web-email&utm_campaign=Sightline%20News%20Selections

New Washington directive aims to help endangered orcas

[Washington Governor Jay] Inslee said the orcas are in trouble and called on everyone in the state to do their part. His directive aims to make more salmon available to the whales; give them more space and quieter waters; make sure they have clean water to swim in; and protect them from potential oil spills. “The destiny of salmon and orca and we humans are intertwined,”…”As the orca go, so go we.” Phuong Le reports. (Associated Press)

https://www.kitsapsun.com/story/news/local/2018/03/14/inslee-roll-out-measures-protect-orcas/425028002/

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