Is it possible to simultaneously promote natural resources conservation and the growth of businesses that impact the environment? Yes. One way to do so is through “compensatory mitigation.” Compensatory mitigation is the preservation, restoration and/or establishment of a resource to offset unavoidable adverse impacts to the resource elsewhere.
For example, a compensatory mitigation agreement created in 2013 helped advance conservation in Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina and business growth in the surrounding area. Here’s how: Under the agreement, three local businesses supported restoration projects that improved aquatic resources located inside the Forests in order to mitigate projects that had unavoidable impacts on wetlands located outside the Forests, typically within the same ecosystem. The three participating businesses were: Duke Energy, Boeing, and The City of Charleston. Unavoidable impacts to streams, wetlands and salt marsh were mitigated under the novel agreement.
The type of compensatory mitigation agreement incorporated into the 2013 agreement, which was created under a permitting system established by the Clean Water Act, is just one of many forms of mitigation. For example, other forms of mitigation may emphasize avoiding and minimizing impacts rather than offsetting impacts.
For decades, the Forest Service has practiced various forms of mitigation in addition to the Clean Water Act. Now, the Forest Service, along with other USDA agencies and the Department of Interior, is working to develop a national, comprehensive framework for mitigation. This framework will provide a more predictable regulatory structure and a streamlined, consistent permitting infrastructure across federal agencies. It would thereby save time and money for third parties and accommodate large landscape-scale restoration projects across forested watersheds and ranges.
A national comprehensive mitigation framework also supports the 2012 Presidential Executive Order 13604, Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects. This Order requires federal agencies to help modernize the nation’s infrastructure and accelerate permitting processes for infrastructure projects while minimizing or mitigating the environmental impacts of those projects.
On November 3, 2015, President Obama took another decisive action urging American businesses to invest in natural resource conservation by signing a Presidential Memorandum to strengthen the environment. This Memorandum, Encouraging Private Investments in America’s Natural Resources, marks a significant milestone by encouraging American businesses to invest in conservation and accelerate restoration efforts by incentivizing private investment in our land, water, and wildlife.
As Christy Goldfuss highlighted in her blog Encouraging Private Investments in America’s Natural Resources, America’s iconic landscapes and natural treasures attract visitors from all over the world, fueling local economies and supporting a $646 billion national outdoor economy. Last fall, the White House announced that 81 companies from all 50 states signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to commit to reducing emissions and support a strong international climate agreement. And just two weeks ago, the Secretary of Labor made a crucially important announcement about pension investing with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in mind.