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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senator Stephanie Hansen Introduces Bill To Counter Trump Administration Repeal Of Wetland Protections

June 4, 2019

DOVER – Just one month after the federal government significantly narrowed clean water protections nationwide, State Senator Stephanie Hansen is stepping up to create a state level defense of non-tidal wetlands in Delaware.

Introduced on Wednesday, Senate Bill 233 would amend Delaware’s Wetlands Act and largely mirror rules previously found in the Clean Water Act of 1972 and Obama-era regulations issued in the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

“Delaware’s freshwater wetlands are a priceless asset both in this state and in the regional ecosystem,” Senator Hansen said. “We rely on these areas for clean drinking water, flood protection, migratory bird populations and so much more. If the federal government is going to walk back their protection of these crucial waterways, then our state needs to step up as soon as possible.”

“Wetlands like these are invaluable,” she added. “There are thousands of acres at stake and when we lose these, it sets off a chain reaction of species loss throughout our environment.”

Delaware is the only state in the mid-Atlantic region without state-level protections for non-tidal wetlands. These waters – including marshes, swamps, wet meadows, and the shallow margins and headwaters of streams, rivers, and other bodies of water – had previously been protected by regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency enforced through the Army Corps of Engineers.

Federal changes have focused on defining which bodies of water are covered by the Clean Water Act, a landmark environmental law passed to prevent the pollution of many different “waters of the United States.” Proponents and opponents have argued over which waters are specifically covered ever since.

In a rare 4-1-4 ruling in 2006, The Supreme Court of the United States failed to reach a majority ruling in Rapanos v. United States, which was remanded to a lower court and ended in a settlement.

In 2015, the Obama administration issued a Clean Water Rule (also known as the Waters of the United States Rule) that explicitly included wetlands, streams, and other bodies of water in the definition used in the Clean Water Act.

Finalized earlier this year, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule will significantly amend the definition of which waters warrant protection under that act, notably leaving out non-tidal wetlands and other smaller bodies of water. The new federal rule takes effect on June 22 of this year.

Although Hansen said that her bill will likely not be heard by the General Assembly this year due to meeting constraints brought about by the coronavirus, her intent is to re-introduce the bill in January 2021 when the General Assembly is back in session.