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Lawsuit challenges permit for jetties.

NPCA and five other environmental groups, represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, filed suit against the Department of the Interior in early November, contesting a permit issued for a controversial jetty project.

Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan granted a conditional permit on October 29 for the budding of two enormous jetties on North Carolina's Outer Banks. NPCA and the other groups have fought approval of the project for more than 20 years, arguing that the jetties will create serious erosion at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The lawsuit also cites several irregularities in the permit. The permit authorizes construction to begin as soon as a study of the project's effects, already under way, is completed. It appears to give the authorization no matter what the study's findings are.

Under federal law, this supplemental environmental impact statement and other such studies are meant to be objective reviews on which government decisions can be based. The suit charges that by issuing the permit now, Interior violated that decision-making procedure and the objectivity of the study.

The lawsuit also points to evidence that the decision was politically motivated. It cites a July letter written by Dan Gray, chairman of the Dare County, North Carolina, Republican Party, to President George Bush. In it, Gray states that "for us to carry this area" in the November elections, some sign that the project would be approved was needed. "I cannot deliver the votes this fall unless some answers are provided in this matter," Gray said.

The two stone jetties, each up to a mile and a half long, would stretch out into the sea from either side of treacherous Oregon Inlet. They are intended to stabilize the inlet, the only opening in the Outer Banks for 120 miles.

Scientists and environmentalists who oppose the jetty project question its effectiveness. They also believe the jetties will cause severe erosion the natural sand movement that replenishes the shoreline of the Outer Banks.

Senior Interior Department officials reportedly opposed granting the permits. The project, authorized by Congress in 1970, has been held up ever since by opposition from Interior Department staff, including Secretary James Watt. In October Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) wrote to Bush citing the damage the project could cause.

Another controversy arose in late September, when an Interior Department policy change that could have opened millions of acres of public lands to strip mining became public. Shortly thereafter, Congress put a one-year hold on the new policy, which had been scheduled to take effect in November.

Strip mining for coal in national parks, national forests, and other federal lands has been prohibited since 1977. Federal law allows only people and companies with valid existing rights " to mine in those areas. That term has been generally accepted as meaning cases in which mining permits were sought before the law went into effect.

The new Interior Department policy changed the definition of the term to include anyone holding mineral rights on federal land. Under the policy, the government would either have to allow mining to begin or purchase the mineral rights from the owners. Both environmentalists and the coal industry predict the total would come to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The administration took other anti-environmental actions shortly before the November elections. In late October, it proposed a weakening of Environmental Protection Agency regulations for Alaska. The change would exempt Alaskan developers from Clean Water Act regulations that protect wetlands.

The state's wetlands remain largely intact but are being lost at a rate exceeding the national average. Conservationists are urging EPA not to finalize the change, published as a proposed new regulation on November 4.

Also in late October, the Bush Administration moved to weaken air quality protections for national parks and wilderness areas. It has not yet published this proposed new regulation, however, which would loosen pollution-control standards for industries locating near parks and wilderness.

Write to EPA Administrator William Reilly, 401 M Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20460, urging him not to approve regulations affecting park air quality and Alaska wetlands. Send copies to President-Elect Clinton, P.O. Box 615, Little rock, AR 72203.
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Publication:National Parks
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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