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Congress v Environment: House Committee OKs Dirty Water Bill

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22 June 2011, 3:02 PM
Many House reps put up a good fight to save their water, but lose
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV)

It was a dark day in the House of Representatives, today, as the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed a bill that would flush away decades of water safeguards and protections, along with our powerful federal system for ensuring that any waters in this country are safe to drink, fish, and swim in.

The legislation, HR 2018, takes one of our country's most important laws -- the 40-year-old Clean Water Act -- turns it on its head, shakes out its whole intent and purpose, and leaves it powerless to protect the people of this nation. Instead, the bill gives that power to the states, who proved long ago that they were unfit for the job. Without federal oversight, states let their rivers burn, lakes die, and streams become toxic industrial dumping grounds, while their citizens paid the price with their health. State protection sometimes amounted to just a warning: don't go near or swim in the water.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 because it saw that some states were inept and others were corrupt and run by the will of huge corporations that wanted to dump their pollution in their local waterways. Wisely, Congress recognized that water is never just confined to one area or state. Because water flows, one state's problem becomes another state's problem. Congress recognized that it wasn't fair for some states to poison their waters and those in downstream states, or who shared the waters. Congress determined that there needed to be a federal system for ensuring that people of all states are protected. That system is written into the statutes of the Clean Water Act.

And today's vote in Congress, which ignored the fact that water does indeed flow, marks one of the darkest and most blind-sighted moments in our Congress's history.

HR 2018 takes away the EPA’s ability to guarantee safe water protections and reinstalls states' supremacy on water safeguards. It has the potential to lead to the harmful destruction of waters – and then the demise of public health -- in every state in our union.

The bill, which passed 35-19, was sponsored by Rep. Mica (R-FL). Rep. Rahall (D-WV), who holds a powerful seat of seniority on this committee, took up the job of co-sponsoring, boosting, and touting this legislation.

For Rep. Rahall, this bill to disable the Clean Water Act and put states above the federal government is just another way for him to do what he’s been trying to do for years: break his state, West Virginia, free of federal water protections so that coal companies can continue blowing up mountains and dumping their waste in waterways.

The safeguards he’s trying to shatter are on Appalachian headwaters streams that feed the entire mid-Atlantic region’s water supplies. But more than anything, it’s hurting the people in his own state. Mountaintop removal mining is contaminating waters throughout Appalachia and putting the people of Appalachia in danger due to severe water pollution, water degradation and stream destruction. Just yesterday, a scientific report came out that ties mountaintop removal mining to startling rates of birth defects for babies.

It’s clear Rahall has his own agenda, but several members of Congress were not about to let Rahall’s political motives take down protections for the people in their states – or at least not without a fight.

In particular, Rep. Bishop (D-NY) threw his weight into stopping this disastrous legislation and protecting residents of his state and all other states from the hell that could break loose if this law were to pass. Leading a series of protests during the markup, Bishop said:

This bill fundamentally alters current federal-state relationship outlined in the Clean Water Act. It prevents the EPA from revising outdated state water quality standards, makes states the final arbiter of whether a permit is approved even if that permit affects the water of other states, and limits federal agencies’ ability to protect health of people across states.

Rep. Capuano (D-MA) offered clarity: “Massachusetts spent billions of our own state dollars to clean up our harbor and drinking water sources, If you want to kill your citizens...that’s fine. We don’t.” He pleaded:

"Don’t do it to us," he continued. "You want do what you want to do with your water, your recreational areas. But don’t make it so that Massachusetts or other states who wish to have clean water, who have spent our taxpayer money to have clean water, who have built our states and economies around that clean water -- don’t make it so that we have to suffer."

Suffering is exactly what will come of this bill if it passes into law. Since it passed committee today, it goes to the full House for a floor vote next. It's absolutely critical that House members hear overwhelming public opposition to this bill. It's also important that those who voted today against clean water and public health hear from their constituents (see final vote count below).

Olease call your representatives today and urge them to oppose it. Dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representatives' offices, then leave your message. Or look at this listing by state.

Final Vote Count, 35 Ayes (Y) - 19 Nayes (N):
John L. Mica (FL) -- Y
Don Young (AK) - not present
Thomas E. Petri (WI) - Y
Howard Coble (NC) - Y
John J. Duncan, Jr. (TN) - Y
Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ) - Y
Gary Miller (CA) - Y
Timothy V. Johnson (IL) - N
Sam Graves (MO) - not present
Bill Shuster (PA) - Y
Shelley Moore Capito (WV) - Y
Jean Schmidt (OH) - Y
Candice Miller (MI) - Y
Duncan Hunter (CA) - Y
Andy Harris (MD) - Y
Rick Crawford (AR) - Y
Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA) - Y
Frank Guinta (NH) - Y
Randy Hultgren (IL) - Y
Lou Barletta (PA) - Y
Chip Cravaack (MN) - Y
Blake Farenthold (TX) - Y
Larry Bucshon (IN) - Y
Billy Long (MO) - Y
Bob Gibbs (OH) - Y
Patrick Meehan (PA) - Y
Richard Hanna (NY) - Y
Jeff Landry (LA) - Y
Steve Southerland (FL) - Y
Jeff Denham (CA) - Y
James Lankford (OK) - Y
Reid Ribble (WI) - Y
Chuck Fleischmann (TN) - Y
Nick Rahall (WV) - Y
Peter A. DeFazio (OR) - N
Jerry F. Costello (IL) - Y
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) - N
Jerrold Nadler (NY) - N
Corrine Brown (FL) - N
Bob Filner (CA) - not present
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) - N
Elijah E. Cummings (MD) - N
Leonard Boswell (IA) - Y
Tim Holden (PA) - Y
Rick Larsen (WA) - N
Michael E. Capuano (MA) - N
Timothy H. Bishop (NY) - N
Michael H. Michaud (ME) - N
Russ Carnahan (MO) - N
Grace Napolitano (CA) - N
Daniel Lipinski (IL) - N
Mazie Hirono (HI) - N
Jason Altmire (PA) - Y
Timothy J. Walz (MN) - N
Heath Shuler (NC) - N
Steve Cohen (TN) - N
Laura A. Richardson (CA) - not present
Albio Sires (NJ) - N
Donna F. Edwards (MD) - not present

I couldn't help but notice that Congressman Lou Barletta, Republican, and former mayor of Hazleton (a city that sits on top of the AMD pool that pollutes the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay via the Little Nescopeck Creek and its parent Nescopeck Creek, was among the "yes" votes on this legislation. That figures.. Anything to keep those campaign contributors happy.

Not even a 40-year-old federal legal code is enough to clean up one of coal-mining's greatest debacles: The century-old poisoning - with acid mine drainage (AMD) of a Chesapeake Bay trib (the Litle Nescopeck Creek) in northeastern Pa. You can learn more at Google "Little Nescopeck Creek" to get the link for an EPA report. The underground anthracite coal mine pool that contributes an average of 40,000 gallons a minute of AMD includes the area near the coal-mining patch town of Eckley, where "The Molly Maguires" starring Sean Connery was filmed. So, this is part of the legacy of mining coal in the U.S. of A. Until moving to Vermont three weeks ago, I lived for two decades just a half-mile from this dead creek.

We need the Clean Water act to help save our future.

Peter. I appreciate your comments above. I design I&I tracking software and am aware of individual homeowners' contributions to waste. I think, however, that any one individual mountain top removal coal site contributes more to the detriment of our clean water supply than all of the sewage outlets within a 1,000 mi radius of the mine site. That is what RahaulAssForTheCoalThugs is trying to unregulate.

When in the sixties some states had stricter water pollution rules than other states, and industries moved from clean states to dirty states, loss of employment forced politicians to go to Washington and demand uniform national standards. To give up their rights, states settled for the fact that the federal government would have to pay a large portion (85%) of any new treatment requirements. The result was the Clean Water Act with its goal of swimmable fishable waters by 1983 and the elimination of all water pollution by 1985. The treatment standards were also supposed to be a technology based program by demanding best available sewage treatment. Congress specifically rejected a water-quality based program, as such a program would be too easy to manipulate and defeat the purpose of the Act.
Unfortunately, when EPA implemented the CWA and set treatment standards for their NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permits, it used an essential test incorrectly and as one of its many negative consequences, ignored 60% of the water pollution in sewage Congress intended to treat and although EPA already in 1984 acknowledged the problems caused by this test, in stead of correcting the test, it allowed an alternative test and thereby officially lowered the goal of the Act to a measly 35% treatment, while also officially ignoring the water pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste, besides exerting an oxygen demand, just like fecal waste, also is a fertilizer for algae, thus contributes to eutrophication now appearing as dead zones in most open waters.
EPA also already in 1978 acknowledged that not only much better sewage treatment (compared to the present century old odor control facilities) was available, but also was less expensive to built and operate. EPA, under the CWA was required to establish best available sewage treatment technology and accordingly set treatment standards, but failed to do so. This would have eliminated all the problems now experienced by lack of standards set for what EPA now calls ‘nutrients’. This while already in 1987, of the record, EPA stated that the test (BOD) and regulations should be corrected, but at the same time claimed that this was impossible as it would require a re-education and retooling of an entire industry. An industry happy with the status quo, since this test is still incorrectly applied and therefore nobody can be held accountable when something goes wrong.
EPA clearly never implemented the CWA, but if the State individually would do a better job, is questionable, as many of the States have been aware of the problems with this test and never did anything about this, as nobody likes to admit that they have made mistakes, especially not when we deal with lack of understanding of a test. (
Sadly without correcting this test we keep not only spinning our wheels to clean up our open waters, but are wasting time and money.

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