Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today struck a double blow against efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams that supply drinking water to 117 million Americans and wetlands that provide flood protection and critical fish and wildlife habitat. The full House rejected an amendment to allow the Army Corps to proceed with Clean Water Act guidance and rulemaking, while the Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year (FY) 2012 Interior Appropriations bill that bars EPA from taking similar action.
The House rejected an amendment by Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) to the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to revise guidance and proceed with a rulemaking to clarify the waters protected by the Clean Water Act. The bill includes a provision (Section 109) barring the Corps from taking any steps next year or in future years to revise the proposed guidance or regulations. By voting against this amendment, the House would maintain the status quo of wetlands loss, stream impairment, and regulatory confusion.
“The vote today represented a clear choice between restoring Clean Water Act protections to important streams and wetlands and postponing those protections indefinitely,” said Scott Kovarovics, Conservation Programs Director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “Congressman Moran’s amendment provided a balanced path forward for clean water. Unfortunately, opponents of the amendment chose not to take that path.”
“Clean water must be a bipartisan national priority,” said Steve Kline, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Agricultural and Private Lands. “Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has made significant progress in restoring our nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands. The job is not done, but votes like today’s are an ill-advised step in exactly the wrong direction.”
The Interior Appropriations bill includes a nearly identical provision (Section 435) blocking EPA action on Clean Water Act guidance or future rulemaking. It blocks such actions not only in FY 2012 but in future years as well.
“These provisions leave us with an intolerable status quo that threatens wetlands and tributaries that provide clean water for iconic systems like the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, recharge aquifers, help retain floodwaters, and provide important fish and wildlife habitat,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation Wetlands and Water Resources Counsel.
Loss of Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands could affect more than our drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat – it could hurt the nation’s economy. Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation contribute billions to the economy, but these activities could be sharply curtailed by water pollution and loss of wetland habitat critical for ducks, trout, and other wildlife.
“American sportsmen greatly appreciate the efforts of Representative Moran and others as they reminded the House what it seems to have forgotten: You can’t have fishable and swimable waters if substantial amounts of wetlands and headwater streams go unprotected by the Clean Water Act,” said Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen will not forget these votes and will continue to do all in our power to defeat similar provisions that threaten clean water.”
The damaging House provisions would prevent the Corps of Engineers and EPA from finalizing administrative guidance that has been developed with an unprecedented level of public input. The Corps and EPA are collecting public comments on the proposed guidance for 90 days, through July 31. As written, the guidance increases clarity and efficiency for agencies, farmers, and businesses without expanding the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Exemptions already in the Clean Water Act for common farming, ranching, forestry, and other land use activities would not be affected by the proposed guidance. As an administrative document, the guidance cannot – and does not – limit provisions of the Clean Water Act that specifically exempt these activities from the law’s wetland and pollution discharge permit requirements. It is ironic that these provisions also prohibit a formal rulemaking process. Stakeholders on all sides seem to agree on the need for a formal rulemaking as part of a long-term solution, yet the bills prohibit rulemaking not only in fiscal year 2012, but indefinitely.
For more information about the proposed guidance, read “The Clean Water Act Guidance: What It Does and Does Not Do” (PDF link).
Izaak Walton League * National Wildlife Federation * Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership * Trout Unlimited