House and Senate Mount Unprecedented Attacks on Clean Water Policy (8/3/12)
Aug 3, 2012 Posted by Dawn Merritt
By Scott Kovarovics, IWLA Conservation Director
Throughout June and July, members of Congress in both chambers proposed and voted on bills and amendments that would derail efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters. Amendments blocking Corps of Engineers and EPA Clean Water Act guidance were added in the House to the annual budget bills for both agencies, while other members of Congress tried to add similar prohibitions to the 2012 Farm Bill. A House committee approved a separate bill in June to permanently block Clean Water Act guidance or any future rulemaking designed to better protect our streams, wetlands, and drinking water.
Then, this week, that same House committee approved another bill that would make it easier to drain or fill a wetland or alter a stream without a permit from the Corps of Engineers. Since 1977, the Clean Water Act exempted a wide range of common agricultural, forestry, construction, and energy development activities from the wetland permit provisions contained in Section 404 of the Act. In adopting these exemptions, Senators and Representatives who authored the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1977 – which represented the first update to the landmark law adopted in 1972 – made abundantly clear that Congress intended to exempt activities that had minimal effects on water resources. They were equally clear that Congress did not intend the exemptions to be used to drain or fill wetlands that had not been altered previously or to significantly affect the flow or circulation of waters. This point was conveyed by including a provision in the law requiring permits if the exempted activities would affect wetlands that had not been filled previously or would alter water circulation. The House committee bill effectively repeals this limitation. If this limit is removed, many wetlands, streams, and other waters could be drained, filled, or altered without a permit. This legislation is directly at odds with the common-sense limits Congress put on the exemptions and would dramatically expand the scope of those exemptions.
The League has been fighting each and every one of these attacks. With Congress about to adjourn for its August recess, further action on these and other misplaced measures will be postponed until September or later in the fall. To date, few of these bills have advanced in the Senate, and it will be critically important to rally opposition among Senators as decisions are made in the months ahead. In 2011, we defeated similar proposals – and we succeeded because members of Congress heard loudly and clearly from League members and others who actively use and enjoy our nation’s waters. We’ll need to be as vocal going forward.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service