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Watchdog: EPA inflating success of wetlands programs

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This file image shows the wetlands of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in southern Oregon. (Reuters)

An EPA inspector general report suggests the agency is inflating the success of its wetland preservation programs. 

The finding comes after the agency declared there was "no net loss" of wetlands under a key regulatory program between fiscal 2009 and 2011. 

The program, overseen in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, dates back decades and applies to those seeking permits for everything from dams to highways to mining projects that could spew materials into U.S. wetlands. 

It requires permit seekers to offer "mitigation" plans -- in other words, wetlands restoration projects -- to offset any "adverse impacts." 

The EPA has reported these rules as successful -- but the EPA inspector general report found that the declarations were based on the EPA's assumption that all the mitigation projects would be 100 percent effective. 

That's not always the case, according to the IG report

"Not clearly communicating such assumptions hampers the public's understanding of the EPA's actual performance in protecting wetlands," the report said. 

One survey of North Carolina projects, for instance, found that none of the regions achieved "complete success." 

A memo from EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. said the EPA should "clarify" its own claims -- which the EPA apparently agreed to do. 

A letter from Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner acknowledged that the agency was assuming all these projects would be entirely successful and agreed to "corrective actions."