Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reps. Report "Drastic Deterioration" Of CWA Enforcement

Dec 16: Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) have written to President-elect Obama regarding their investigation into what they called "the drastic deterioration of the Clean Water Act [CWA] enforcement program." Chairman Waxman said, "One of the legacies of the Bush Administration is its failure to protect the safety and health of the nation's waters. Our investigation reveals that the clean water program has been decimated as hundreds of enforcement cases have been dropped, downgraded, delayed, or never brought in the first place. We need to work with the new Administration to restore the effectiveness and integrity to this vital program."

The two Representatives reported that new internal documents obtained by the Committees show that "hundreds of Clean Water Act violations have not been pursued with enforcement actions. Dozens of existing enforcement cases have become informal responses, have had civil penalties reduced, and have experienced significant delays. Many violations are not even being detected because of the substantial reduction in investigations. Violations involving oil spills make up nearly half of the Clean Water Act violations that have been detected but are not being addressed."

They said EPA refused to produce hundreds of documents to the Committees and redacted many of the documents it did produce. EPA concealed the identity of corporations and individuals accused of polluting waters and the specific waters that may have been affected. In addition, the Committees' investigation revealed that the Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works "placed the interests of corporate lobbyists over the scientific determinations of career officials in making Clean Water Act decisions about the Santa Cruz River in Arizona."

Chairman Oberstar said,"This Administration has only exacerbated a series of bad Supreme Court decisions by not enforcing the Clean Water Act and by placing development interests above those of the public. By withholding relevant information and misleading Congress our nation's waters have gone unprotected for too long. Only through Congressional action can we restore necessary Clean Water Act protections to our nation's waters."

The Committees' investigation included the review of more than 20,000 pages of documents produced to the Committees by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Much of the review relates to the June 2006, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Rapanos v. United States that federal agencies could assert jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act for many waters only after going through a time-consuming and resource-intensive process of demonstrating a "significant nexus" to "traditional navigable waters."

In their 23-page Memo of findings, the Representatives say, "The documents indicate that the Supreme Court's decision . . . [in Rapanos] and the Administration's guidance implementing that decision have resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of Clean Water Act inspections, investigations, and enforcement actions. In numerous e-mails, memos, and other documents, EPA field offices across the country have expressed serious concerns about this negative trend, warning that they are no longer able to ensure the safety and health of the nation's waters. . ."

Jan Goldman-Carter Wetlands and Water Resources Counsel for National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reacted to the legislative investigation and said, “This memorandum reveals what we always feared -- the Clean Water Act is being crushed by the current legal uncertainty and our important water resources are suffering. It is time for Congress to stop the bleeding and restore full protections to our Nation’s waters.” NWF attorney Jim Murphy said, “It is now beyond question that leaving the status quo in place is a catastrophic choice for our children’s future. The new Congress, with vigorous support from the new Administration, must reverse the damage done to the Clean Water Act and put us back on the path to clean water.”

Joan Mulhern, Legislative Counsel for the public interest law firm Earthjustice said, "We have known for some time that the Clean Water Act is broken and that thousands of streams, rivers and wetlands have lost federal anti-pollution protections. But now we know the extent to which the Bush administration has been covering up the problem. While the committees' report is very revealing, the EPA's cover-up continues. They are still withholding documents on hundreds of dropped enforcement actions, and the information they did give the chairmen redacted identifying information that would tell the American people which water bodies have been contaminated illegally with oil spills, fills, and other industrial discharges by polluters. The new administration must immediately reverse this pattern of leaving waters unprotected and hiding the mess from the public, and support swift Congressional passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act."

Access a release and link to the text of the letter to President-elect Obama, a memorandum discussing the Committees' findings, and accompanying internal documents (click here). Access a release from NWF (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access the WIMS-EcoBizPort Special Report on Rapanos for links and extensive information (click here). Access WIMS eNewsUSA Blog for various articles related to Rapanos (click here). [*Water]