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Democracy Now! Exclusive: EPA Scientist Resigns in Protest Over Agency's Acceptance of Developer-Financed Wetlands Study

StoryOctober 31, 2003
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We speak with former Environmental Protection Agency biologist Bruce Boler who resigned to protest the agency’s acceptance of a developer-financed study that concluded wetlands give off more pollutants than they absorb. [Includes transcript]

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The study suggested that replacing natural wetlands with golf courses and other developments may be better for the environment.

In his resignation letter, Bruce Boler writes: "Ultimately, the politics in Southwest Florida have proven to be stronger than the science…I have worked assiduously in the last three years to develop an evaluation that would discourage development in wetlands (no pollutant source) and provide a means to sustain the unique quality of life that this region offers with its abundant aquatic resources. I fear that my efforts may have, inadvertently, strengthened the very forces that are intent on developing these resources."

  • Bruce Boler, an Environmental Protection Agency biologist who resigned to protest the agency’s acceptance of a developer-financed study that concluded wetlands give off more pollutants than they absorb.


AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Bowler joins us now. Welcome to Democracy Now!.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you take about who did this study and why you resigned?

BRUCE BOLER: The study was actually contracted by the developers themselves who hired a consultant from the outside to do the work, but that — the study itself was part of the reason I resigned is that I had been requiring an evaluation much like the study that was done that was designed to — for developers to demonstrate that they’re not adding any additional pollutants to waters of the United States on their particular project — individual projects and it was kind of an evaluation procedure. It was required because in an environmental impact statement just completed down here, we identified that most of the basins, the water bodies and stuff were impaired or about standing quality, you know, aquatic preserves and that any additional pollutants to these would cause degradation of those water bodies, and that was prohibited by the Clean Water Act. So the Clean Water Act was very clear in requiring that these projects, if they’re discharging additional pollutants to it would be causing degradation. And so I required they demonstrate that they’re not doing any additional pollutants to it and they couldn’t meet my evaluation. It was fairly straightforward, but they couldn’t meet it, so they hired someone from the outside to actually come up with evaluation that could meet it, to essentially — but way it was done was they decided that wetlands were a pollutant source, and in the predevelopment calculation, they actually would come up and say that the wetlands are discharging this many hundreds of pounds of pollutants, and if we filled them in, we could reduce that pollutant load by doing certain types of developments. I protested that very strongly, and when the agencies did not listen to it, my objections, that was kind of the last straw in my leaving.

AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Bolder, can you talk about where golf courses fit into this?

BRUCE BOLER: Yes. One of the interesting parts was that one of the first huge developments trying to use this evaluation was doing a couple of golf courses, and they submitted the golf courses with filling them in, and using wetlands as a pollutant loading source and they reduced their pollutant load by their two golf courses by filling in the wetlands to build the two golf courses because in the Harvey method the consultants the developers hired, they — filling in wetland should produce uplands without buildings on them would actually reduce your pollutant discharge. So you could fill in hundreds and hundreds of acres of wetlands building a golf course and reduce your pollutant discharge. I said this was ridiculous, that there was no science showing that golf courses are going to have less pollutant load than wetlands, and in fact, wetlands from all the scientific literature actually removes pollutant discharges through chemical, physical and biological processes. This is well understood. The idea that we can reduce pollutant discharges by putting a golf course in the place of a wetland is absurd. That’s in the calculations that the agency approved down here. You could do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bruce Bowler, what’s happened to the EPA? I mean, every report coming out now about misinforming New Yorkers at Ground Zero, about the dangers of the toxins, the vacuuming of the EPA website of words like global warming?

BRUCE BOLER: I tell you the term I hear is: Run silent, run deep. Whenever I send a project — an elevation project up to go up to Washington for a possible veto, which is their prerogative under the Clean Water Act for a significant project that should be vetoed, the lawyer from Washington told me, listen, privately, they’re not going to do anything. They’re scared to do anything up here. No one wants to get out on front on any of this. We’re just trying to hold on while we can to get through this. That’s pretty scary to me. They’re shaking in their boots afraid too do anything. I don’t know who’s got their thumb on them, but they’re not going to do anything is my understanding.

AMY GOODMAN: you don’t know who’s got their thumb on them?

BRUCE BOLER: I don’t want to speculate, but I could speculate, but it would just be speculation.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you speculate?

BRUCE BOLER: I would speculate it is political. Definitely, we have had political changes. The one thing I knew political was when we had a new regional administrator —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 5 seconds, would you say it’s the White House?

BRUCE BOLER: Yes. I would say it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Bowler, I want to thank you for being with us, Environmental Protection Agency biologist, who has resigned. That does it for the show.

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