The Permittee Experience

Owning a piece of land does not always mean having the freedom to do with it what you want. For example, if you want to build a boathouse on your lakefront property, you will have to follow a legal process before ensuring that such a project will be allowed under local, state, and/or federal law. Your property's proximity to the water may mean that it will be classified as wetlands. Under various wetlands protection laws, you will have to be granted permission from numerous government sources before going forward with your project.

Under the Clean Water Act, you will have to apply to the Army Corps of Engineers for a 404 permit. You will also need to provide an environmental assessment for NEPA purposes, certify that your project is consistent with your state's Coastal Zone Management Act program policies, and ensure that no other federal licenses will be required for your project. Then you will need to figure out which state and local regulations apply to your plan, and request any permits that may be required on the local level. While there will likely be some overlap in the state and federal requirements, it is often difficult to determine exactly what is needed before you can be assured that you are in compliance with all applicable laws. This complicated process can produce great frustration, and can lead applicants to avoid meeting legal requirements because complying with the rules is too difficult.

be more, but cannot be less stringent than the federal law. This leads to state and local laws and regulations that mirror their federal counterparts and allow for enforcement on the local level. Although this cooperative effort may ensure that federal environmental statutes reach a larger share of violators, it can also lead to confusion for individuals who try to comply with the law, and may make it difficult for agencies to apply the law with uniformity.

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