Boston — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is repealing by piecemeal the strongest protections for wetlands in the country. The current proposal by Governor Deval Patrick for “streamlining” permits to destroy wetlands is another big step backwards, according to testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Gov. Patrick’s pending plan would 1) abolish many citizen appeals; 2) cut procedural safeguards governing wetland appeals making it harder to protect wetlands; and 3) eliminate independent review of state permit decisions. The net effect of these changes would leave lawsuits as the only effective means of preventing wetlands destruction.
“This plan stacks the deck against wetlands,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and former wetlands specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The Governor’s pledge to process permits at ‘the speed of business’ suggests that he is more concerned about delaying bulldozers than saving irreplaceable natural assets for future generations.”
The plan is being opposed by a coalition of more than two dozen conservation groups and hundreds of citizens. The public comment period ends this week. In testimony delivered at the final public hearing, PEER points out that—
- The state never even evaluated whether its last streamlining effort in 2005 worked;
- The number of citizen adjudicatory appeals have fallen from 33 in 2004 to only 4 in 2006; and
- The Governor wants to shift oversight of wetland permit decisions from independent reviews by nonpartisan Administrative Magistrates in the Division of Administrative Law Appeals to the very agency which made the decision, resulting in biased review.
In the 1960s, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to adopt a wetlands protection law. It recognizes that wetlands are the people’s water resources, not just the developers’ private property. Since Colonial times, nearly a third of the Commonwealth’s wetlands have been destroyed.
“Unfortunately, Governor Patrick appears to be from the Developer Democrat wing of the party which believes economic growth and environmental protection are mutually exclusive,” Bennett added. “No one opposes efficient handling of permits, but we must make sure that proposed solutions are actually needed before lunging forward.”
Gov. Patrick is also proposing to extend these procedural shortcuts to other environmental reviews next year after it has evaluated these wetlands regulatory changes. It is not clear, however, how Gov. Patrick will measure success to justify further reductions in the role of citizens in protecting the environment.