WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2015 - The White House released a memorandum Tuesday on the ways President Obama’s administration will encourage the private sector to mitigate the impacts of development on natural resources and public lands.
“We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America's natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them,” the president said in the six-page memo. It was addressed to the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Agriculture.
“As efforts across the country have demonstrated, it is possible to achieve strong environmental outcomes while encouraging development and providing services to the American people,” the memo continued. “This occurs through policies that direct the planning necessary to address harmful impacts on natural resources by avoiding and minimizing impacts, then compensating for impacts that do occur.”
The memo stipulated that the agencies adopt a “clear and consistent approach” that minimizes or avoids impacts to natural resources in “their activities and the projects they approve.” USDA has 180 days to submit its plan, while the other agencies have one year.
The departments were encouraged to institute “advance compensation” policies to create a market-based system for controlling environmental degradation. Wetland mitigation banking, for instance, has been widely used to maintain a “no net loss” of wetlands since the 1990s. According to the policy, private companies proposing to destroy or degrade wetlands in the process of developing land must “bank” wetland credits, either by paying to restore an existing wetland, or by building new wetlands.
Each department was also instructed to set measurable performance goals that could be used for implementation and evaluation on an interagency basis.
In an email to Agri-Pulse, Don Parish, senior director for regulatory relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the memo is “a direct attack on private property rights and will further depress our struggling economy.”
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), released a statement praising the White House’s move, calling it “another addition to the powerful environmental legacy that President Obama will leave.”
“The White House is setting a new precedent that human needs for food, fuel and fiber must not come at the expense of the environment,” Krupp said. “Today is the first time in our nation’s history that a president has gone so far as to call for ‘no net loss’ for all natural resources, and to institute a preference for ‘net benefit’ where possible.”
Eric Holst, the associate vice president of EDF’s working lands, said in a separate release that Obama’s new mitigation strategy should open the door to a whole slew of new environmental markets for agriculture, giving farmers and ranchers the opportunity to earn new revenue for conservation activities.”
“If conservation isn’t already a part of their business models, it certainly can be now,” he said.
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