Thursday, July 14, 2011

House Approves "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act" (H.R.2018)

Jul 13: U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation by a vote of  239 to 184, introduced by Representative John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation &  Infrastructure Committee and cosponsored by Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), the Ranking Member on the Committee. Rep. Rahall was among only 16 Democrats that voted for the measure along with 223 Republicans. According to a release from Rep. Rahall, the bill -- H.R.2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act -- is "aimed at reining in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) overreach in the Clean Water Act permitting process that is threatening the future of coal mining jobs and communities throughout Appalachia." The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a policy statement saying it "strongly opposes" the bill and will recommend that the President veto the bill if it is presented to him [See WIMS 7/13/11].

    Rep. Rahall said, "Under the guise of ensuring clean water, the EPA's regulatory pendulum has swung wildly to one side, knocking aside the long-standing cooperative relationships with the states and leaving affected coal miners teetering on the brink of unemployment. This bill would bring the federal water quality permitting process back to center and help to ensure a more stable, clear, and equitable national clean water program."

    Rahall indicated in the release that the bill would provide common sense protections for states' EPA-approved water quality standards and permitting authority under the Clean Water Act. Under practices by the current EPA, the permits for surface mines throughout the Appalachian States have been bottled up for months. The bill would help to speed up the permitting process and rein in EPA, which has imposed new criteria for permits that have stymied the process. The bill would place limits on EPA's ability to veto dredge and fill permits previously issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as EPA did with the Spruce Mine permit in Logan County in January. 

    Rahall said, "Not only is the EPA reaching into the Clean Water Act authorities under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, it is also reaching into the States and attempting to control their water protection programs. Certainly, it would be preferable that agencies work with each other, with the States, and within the confines of their statutory authority so we did not have to craft this kind of legislation. But when they abuse their powers, the Congress has the Constitutional responsibility to serve as a check on them.  This is clearly such a time."

    According to a summary of the bill release by Rep. Rahall, the bill would:

  • State Water Quality Standards: Restricts EPA's ability to issue a revised or new water quality standard for a pollutant whenever a state has adopted – and EPA has already approved – a standard, unless the state concurs.
  • State Section 401 Water Quality Certification: Prohibits EPA from superseding a water quality certification (that a discharge will comply with applicable water quality requirements) granted by a state under CWA section 401.
  • Approval of State NPDES Permit Program Authority: Prohibits EPA from withdrawing approval of a state water quality permitting program under CWA section 402 (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES), or from limiting federal financial assistance for the state program, on the basis that EPA disagrees with the state regarding a (i) water quality standard that a state has adopted and EPA has approved, or (ii) the implementation of any federal guidance that directs a re-interpretation of the state's approved water quality standards.
  • EPA Veto Authority over State NPDES Permitting Decisions: Prohibits EPA from objecting to a state's issuance of an NPDES permit on the basis of (i) EPA's differing interpretation of an approved state water quality standard, or (ii) the implementation of any federal guidance that directs a re-interpretation of the state's approved water quality standards.
  • EPA Veto Authority over Corps Section 404 (Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material) Permitting Decisions: Restricts EPA's ability to veto a Corps 404 permitting decision unless the state concurs with the veto. In an unprecedented action, EPA recently revoked a section 404 permit it had previously approved, even though the permittee had not violated any permit conditions.
  • State Permit Program for the Discharge of Dredged or Fill Material: Allows a state to assume and administer only parts of the 404 permit program; under current law, states are required to assume the entire program or none of it.
  • Deadlines for Fish and Wildlife Service Comments on Proposed Section 404 Permits: The deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to submit comments to the Corps on a proposed section 404 permit is shortened from 90 days to 30 days – or 60 days if additional time is requested.
  • Deadlines for EPA Comments on Proposed Section 404 Permits: The deadline for the EPA to submit comments to the Corps on a proposed section 404 permit shall be 30 days – or 60 days if additional time is requested. (This is consistent with an existing Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies).
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement on the passage of the bill saying, "Americans have been clear that their top priority is creating jobs; this week in Congress, Republicans are ignoring job creation and instead rolling back clean water protections that ensure the safety of the water Americans drink and in which they swim and fish. Nearly 40 years ago, the bipartisan Clean Water Act revolutionized the safety of American water; it gave a measure a confidence to families that they can protect their children from toxins and pollutants. Now Republicans want to take our nation backwards. This week, Republicans are turning back the clock on progress for the environment and our clean energy future: in addition to today's misnamed 'Clean Water' legislation, they attempted to make light bulbs less energy efficient, at a cost to American consumers of nearly $12.5 billion per year, and voted repeatedly to slash investments in clean energy jobs. Republicans should abandon their ideological assault on the environment and get to work creating jobs and strengthening our economy."
    Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued a statement saying, "Today's unprecedented attack on clean water protections is an assault on Americans' health, environment and economy -- and further exposes a House of Representatives that no longer represents the interests or the values of the American people. . . The federal safety net that Congress created when it passed the Clean Water Act has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from entering our waters and doubled the number of waterways that meet clean water standards. . . Now is not the time to roll back essential clean water protections or prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting Americans' drinking water."
    The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Senior Vice President for Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse issued a statement saying, "Manufacturers are pleased that the House of Representatives recognized the harmful impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent activity to revoke state Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permits. If left unchecked, the EPA's actions would cost jobs and hinder infrastructure investment, creating uncertainty for manufacturers and discouraging economic growth. Manufacturers support the House's bipartisan efforts in addressing this important issue and ending the EPA's regulatory overreach on state CWA discharge permits. The EPA's interference in overturning water permits that were previously approved would cost up to $220 billion in annual economic activity directly tied to manufacturing. The bipartisan measure passed yesterday is a step in the right direction to protect thousands of jobs and manufacturing, construction and infrastructure projects, allowing for future investment and economic growth. Manufacturers urge the Senate to pass this legislation swiftly."
    Access a release from Rep. Rahall with a summary of the bill (click here). Access the statement from Rep. Pelosi (click here). Access the statement from Sierra Club (click here). Access the statement from NAM (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.2018 (click here). Access the roll call vote on the bill (click here). Access the OMB Policy Statement (click here). [*Water]