Permits are required by law for construction projects that fill streams or wetlands and for discharge of waste into waterways. These permits are issued by state or federal agencies, and there are opportunities to weigh in on how the permits are written by watchdogging the permit process and writing public comments. Effective public comments can reduce environmental harm, bring the community voice into government decision-making, and contribute to the public record by demonstrating opposition to harmful developments.
Public comments are best submitted in PDF format, via email to the permit manager or contact person listed on the public notice. If you have any questions, please contact our Senior Water Policy Associate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for Writing Effective Public Comments
- Understand the regulatory framework and the applicable laws that the agency has authority to address.
- Do your research and obtain all relevant documents and information regarding proposed project and impacts.
- Follow procedures in the public notice for submitting comments.
- Identify the top 1-3 concerns you have that the agency has authority to address.
- Keep sentences short, use the active voice, and avoid dense blocks of text.
- Phrase comments as objective, fact-based statements.
- Cite your sources using footnotes, endnotes, or hyperlinks.
- Conclude sections by stating what you want the agency to do.
- Conclude the comment with 2-3 sentences that summarize your comment and what you want the agency to do.
- Express gratitude for the opportunity to comment and convey a respectful and professional message.
- Ask for confirmation that the comment was received.
Understanding Regulations for Public Comments
To make the most effective comment, you should make sure that your argument is something that the agency can address, or within its “regulatory framework.” There are certain requirements imbedded within the law that applicants must meet to receive a permit, so part of your job as a commenter is to ensure that those requirements are being met. The other part is to bring forward new information and data that the agency may otherwise not have access to or knowledge of. Below you will find examples of the regulatory framework for selected permits.
Isolated Wetland Permits
Isolated wetland permits authorize impacts to state regulated wetlands and are governed by Indiana’s State Regulated Wetlands Law (IC 13-18-22).
Indiana’s Wetlands Law requires applicants to demonstrate that:
- Wetland activity is without reasonable alternative, AND
- Reasonably necessary or appropriate to achieve a legitimate use proposed by the applicant on the property on which the wetland is located.
Section 401 Water Quality Certificates
Section 401 Water Quality Certificates authorize impacts to federally regulated wetlands and waters. Section 401 certificates are a required component of Section 404 Dredge & Fill Permits, both governed under the Clean Water Act.
The basic premise of 401 and 404 permitting is that “dredged or fill material cannot be discharged into water if the nation’s waters would be significantly degraded or if a feasible alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.” Therefore, comments should be written to provide new information or proof that:
- The impacted waterway will be significantly degraded, OR
- A feasible alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.
In both cases, analyzing alternatives to a project and/or demonstrating that water quality will not be adversely affected are core overarching themes of the regulatory framework. Comments should ideally address the following issues:
- Is there a more reasonable alternative to impacting wetlands?
- Will the proposal adversely impact water quality?
View tips and resources as a PDF.