Press Release Apr 14, 2020

Army Corps Backtracks on Clean Water Act Protections for Big Cypress National Preserve

The National Parks Conservation Association joins fellow environmental advocates in expressing concern over this unsubstantiated flip-flop and calling for answers to many questions that the Army Corps’ reversal letter has raised. 

MIAMI, FL – In a surprise reversal of its previous findings against an oil and gas development company that caused previous damage within Big Cypress National Preserve, the U.S. Army Corps is giving the public more questions than answers about its critical role in enforcing the Clean Water Act and protecting America’s Everglades.

In a new letter dated April 7, Army Corps Colonel Andrew Kelly reversed course on a previous letter from March, which detailed that any mineral exploration within the Preserve would be subject to review under the Clean Water Act. The previous March letter was accompanied by a wealth of factual and science-based details that clearly indicated that “…the [oil exploration survey] caused an identifiable…adverse effect on aquatic function, and that the survey had the adverse effect of degrading a water of the U.S.”

However, in the April 7 letter, Col. Kelly wrote, “Jacksonville District rescinds the conclusions specified in the previous letter and asserts no further action is being taken by Jacksonville District or required of Burnett for its completed seismic survey.”

While the letter indicates that this re-evaluation came after consulting with staff at Big Cypress, it lacks any scientific, technical, or legal evidence to back up the Army Corps’ updated position. The letter notes Burnett’s supposed “expressed commitment to environmental stewardship,” despite the well-documented damage that Burnett’s activities have inflicted upon the preserve.

The National Parks Conservation Association joins fellow environmental advocates in expressing concern over this unsubstantiated flip-flop and calling for answers to many questions that the Army Corps’ reversal letter has raised.

NPCA has opposed Burnett’s seismic testing for oil and gas in the preserve since it began in 2017, citing the severe impacts heavy machinery would have on the ecosystem. Big Cypress National Preserve is a critical wetland and key to the ecological integrity of America’s Everglades, intrinsic to a healthy water supply for millions of Floridians, and contains many federally- and state- listed endangered flora and fauna. It is the largest remnant habitat of Florida’s state animal, the critically endangered Florida panther.

Statement of Dr. Melissa Abdo, Sun Coast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:

“The well-documented damage inflicted to Big Cypress, our nation’s first national preserve, is appalling. During this global health crisis, it is not the time to make rash decisions that could weaken protection for an iconic national park unit within America’s Everglades.

“In early March, National Parks Conservation Association applauded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for providing a detailed, fact-filled letter acknowledging that the critical wetlands within Big Cypress are protected by the Clean Water Act, and that any future oil exploration attempts must be regulated under federal law. We are not aware of any such detailed evidence provided to support the apparent reversal in the decision made last week by the Corps.”

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About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.