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Value to the Nation

Value to the Nation: Regulatory

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Regulatory Program is to protect the nation's aquatic resources and navigable capacity while allowing economic development through fair and balanced decisions.

The USACE permit process is designed to minimize the environmental impact of construction and dredging activities in U.S. waters and to ensure that all such efforts are well thought-out and carefully coordinated.

During the permit process, USACE thoroughly considers the views of other government agencies, interest groups, and the public. USACE also has an effective compliance and enforcement program.

Regulatory Photograph 1

76,000 permit-related activities

95% of all USACE regulatory activities authorized by general permits

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27,000 jurisdictional determinations annually

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 Economic Impact

The USACE Regulatory Program enables billions of dollars’ worth of construction and development projects to proceed each year while ensuring that they have minimal impact on the environment.

The USACE permit system is designed to be fast, fair and efficient. Many projects are authorized under nationwide or regional general permits, which provide faster decisions in instances where there will be minor environmental impact. Most of the permits issued by USACE each year are general permits, for which decisions are typically made in 60 days or less.

In many cases, USACE works with potential applicants during the planning and design of projects so that problems can be spotted early on and addressed, saving development costs and reducing potential environmental harm.

The permit program also minimizes environmental effects that would have a negative impact on fishing and hunting, commercial navigation, and recreational boating, all of which are multibillion-dollar industries. For example, the Regulatory Program ensures the continued viability of wetland-dependent species, which generate significant revenue each year for the fishing and shell fishing industry.

Finally, the regulatory program helps prevent or modify activities that could increase the potential for flooding or cause erosion, helping to prevent damage that could have a substantial negative economic impact.

 Environmental Benefits

A primary goal of the Regulatory Program is to protect the nation's aquatic resources, particularly wetlands. In some cases, projects will have an unavoidable impact on wetlands. In these instances, USACE requires replacement of the wetlands. 

In some cases, projects will have an unavoidable impact on wetlands. In these instances, USACE requires replacement of the wetlands. Although USACE issues permits that affect wetlands, the Regulatory Program also requires that those effects are offset by wetlands were restored, created, enhanced or preserved wetlands.  In many cases, several small, separate, low value wetlands were replaced with more environmentally beneficial large wetland complexes. The regulatory program also plays a key role in protecting endangered species.

Because of the permit program, many developers also have begun taking steps early in their planning process to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts. USACE's expedited general permit program also motivates developers to seek solutions that avoid or minimize harm so that they can receive a quicker permit decision.

Overall, the USACE permit program is making it possible for necessary development projects to go forward while minimizing environmental harm.

In addition to the permit process, USACE's enforcement program ensures that companies that harm the environment fix the damage. USACE acts on more than 6,000 reported violations each year.


USACE strives for a fair, flexible, efficient and balanced permit process that protects the nation's aquatic resources while allowing necessary and reasonable development. USACE evaluates permit applications for most activities that occur in the nation's waters and wetlands, including construction or renovation of dams, dikes, piers, and jetties; dredging; discharges of dredged or fill material; and commercial and residential development. USACE primarily issues three types of permits: standard, general, and letters of permission.

Standard Permits

The standard permit process has four general steps:

  • Pre-application/application. A project is identified and the organization undertaking it develops and submits an application. USACE staff provides input as needed on application and review requirements.
  • Public notice and comment. Upon submittal of a complete application, USACE solicits the views of a variety of individuals, agencies and organizations.
  • Evaluation, decision and mitigation. USACE evaluates the application and the public comments and seeks to balance public interest factors and the benefits and detriments of the project. A primary goal of the review process is to minimize the impact of projects on the environment. USACE coordinates with several federal, state and tribal agencies during this process.
  • Monitoring and enforcement. Once a permit has been issued, USACE continues to monitor the project to ensure that the permit's conditions are met.

General Permits

This is the most common type of permit issued by USACE. General permits are issued on a national, regional or statewide basis. They are usually issued quickly because they cover projects that have minimal impact on the aquatic environment. Organizations will often design their project to have limited environmental impact in order to qualify for a quicker decision under the general permit program. Approximately 95% of all USACE regulatory activities are authorized by general permits. Approximately 84% of general permit verifications were issued within 60 days of receipt of a complete application.

Letters of Permission

Another type of individual permit is a letter of permission which also provides for a quick review. It can be used for projects that have no controversy and where a state water quality certification has been issued. Letters of permission are issued quicker than a standard permit, but not as fast as a general permit.

The average time to reach a decision on all types of applications is 30 days. However, there are some cases that will require additional time to resolve, particularly those involving endangered species, historic properties, and environmental concerns. In a typical year USACE makes about 80,000 permit decisions and 50,000 jurisdictional determinations.

USACE regulatory efforts are designed to protect a wide variety of aquatic resources, including wetlands, rivers, streams, tidal waters, coral reefs, shellfish beds, and the oceans.