Tuesday, May 22, 2007

150 Reps Sponsor Bill To "Fix" Supreme Ct. CWA Decisions

May 22: Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced legislation which he said is designed "to fix the Clean Water Act (CWA) after it was damaged by two U.S. Supreme Court rulings." The pair of rulings issued in 2001 and 2006 question the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enforce the Clean Water Act on wetlands, streams and ponds that are not part of a major “navigable” waterway [Access various posts on WIMS-eNewsUSA Blog and the WIMS-EcoBizPort Special Report on the Rapanos Supreme Court Decision & Related Activities]. Oberstar said, “These rulings ignore everything we have learned about water pollution and wetland conservation. You have to control pollution at its source. If you wait until it hits a major waterway, it is too late to deal with the problem effectively.”

The Clean Water Act has also helped stop the draining of wetlands across the country. Oberstar indicated, “You only have to look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding on the Mississippi River in the mid 1990s to see how wetlands protect us, holding back flood waters. Wetlands also filter ground water and allow it to recharge aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer provides water to eight states from Nebraska to Texas, but many of the wetlands that filter and recharge it have lost their protection due to these Supreme Court rulings.”

Oberstar's Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (CWRA) was introduced along with Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). The bill has 150 co-sponsors. Additionally, CWRA is endorsed by 300 organizations representing the conservation community, family farmers, fishers, boaters, labor unions and civic associations. According to a release the bill would eliminate a complex new jurisdictional application that has been added to the Federal permitting process because of the two Supreme Court rulings. That paperwork adds up to three months of processing time to a wetlands permit.

The bill is designed to restore the authority of the Clean Water Act so it has the same effect it had prior to the Supreme Court’s rulings. It would not create new rules or regulations. The first sentence of the act reads, “The Purpose of this act is as follows: To reaffirm the original intent of Congress in enacting the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (86 Stat. 816) to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the United States.” CWRA would also reaffirm exemptions for farming, mining, logging and other activities that are not regulated by the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Clean Water Project Senior Attorney Jon Devine issued a following statement saying, “We commend the introduction of this important bill and hope Congress will act quickly and decisively in passing it. For decades, the Clean Water Act has protected America’s water resources from industrial pollution, oil spills, sewage, and outright destruction. Recent interpretations of the law have placed many of the nation’s important water bodies in legal limbo, allowing polluters to discharge into water resources across the country without complying with the Clean Water Act’s intended safeguards. This legislation will end this uncertainty and ensure that all of America’s water resources remain protected for future generations.”

Access a release from Representative Oberstar (
click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). [*Water]