In a new research report, the Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) and the Ecological Restoration Business Association (ERBA) reveal persistent delays in the approval of a class of wetland and stream restoration projects called ‘mitigation banks.’ These delays hinder the availability of offsets for impacted waterways during the coming surge in infrastructure building.
Mitigation banks are large tracts of degraded lands restored under the Clean Water Act Section 404 program to provide wetland and stream habitat and functions, often at a landscape scale that benefits watersheds and ecosystems. Over the years, mitigation banking has fueled billions in investment towards conservation outcomes making it the largest U.S. environmental market for natural resource restoration.
We have been hearing for years that the process for approving mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs (ILFs) is plagued by delays. Until now, nobody has quantified those delays. The Time it Takes for Restoration is the first quantitative analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data to see if timelines on mitigation banks were meeting the federally mandated approval time limit of 225 days. Statistical analysis proved that the average project took 336 days just for the time “on the regulator’s desk,” 1.5x longer than required. The full timeline of approval for these environmentally-beneficial projects ranged from a lightning-fast 78 days to a childhood-spanning 12 years and 4 days, with an average of 1,099 days (see Figure 1 below). To put this in context, there is an 800-mile LNG pipeline spanning the entire state of Alaska that is getting permits in seven years, which is faster than 25 of the mitigation banks analyzed in the research.
The research also identified variation in approval timelines in different Corps District offices around the nation. Recommendations for improvements in project management and data entry are included in the report as well.