DEP receives EPA approval for oversight of federal wetlands program

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced yesterday 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 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.

“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.

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 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.”

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.

Photo: DEP