From the start, the Bush administration's attempt to redefine "wetlands" was a pretty transparent lobbying effort for big business. The idea was dreamed up by the White House Council on Competitiveness, a quasi-government agency headed by Vice President Dan Quayle, whose seeming purpose is to dismantle the federal regulatory machine by rewriting the rules.
The proposed new technical definition of wetlands would, in essence, throw into the marketplace about half the 100 million acres which now are currently off limits to developers and oil companies -- among them the coastal marshes and swamps that not only act as buffers to absorb pollutants between cities and bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay, but which also are home to all manner of flora and fauna. Formerly protected land from the Alaskan tundra to the Florida Everglades, including one-third of the freshwater wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay region, would be vulnerable to development and drilling.
Despite an outpouring of public indignation, however, the man who promised to be the environmental president dutifully carried the deregulation torch. Now come the administration's own experts -- including officials in the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers -- to blast the redefinition plan as unworkable. In light of their criticism, President Bush should reconsider the proposal. The attempt to redefine wetlands was a sop to disgruntled free-marketeers and a threat to sound environmental policy. We trust that the weight of opposition from within the president's own ranks will be sufficient to force a recanting.