By a 222 to 198 vote, the House approved an amendment that would block the use of federal funds to implement this controversial 2003 policy directive. The amendment was championed by Reps. James Oberstar (D-MN), Jim Leach (R-IA), and John Dingell (D-MI).
"Americans don't want polluted water," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. "Thankfully, the House has shown that they share that sentiment."
"You can't ignore the fact that water – and everything in it – inevitably flows downstream," said Mulhern. "The EPA/Corps policy was based on the ridiculous fiction that pollution dumped in streams, creeks, and wetlands would not make its way into our drinking water and swimming holes. The House has just voted to reject that fiction."
Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has provided federal safeguards against polluting or destroying the rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, coastal areas, and other waters that Americans rely on for drinking water, fishing, recreation, flood protection, fish and wildlife habitat, and many other uses. But in 2003, the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a new policy: instead of protecting all of the nation's waters, administrators told field staff that federal protection for some waters were in doubt.
The 2003 policy essentially instructs the agencies' field staff not to enforce Clean Water Act safeguards over certain waters unless they first called agency headquarters and were granted permission to do so. No instructions were issued to get permission before allowing unregulated pollution or destruction of these waters. The EPA itself has estimated that as many as 20 million acres of wetlands – 20 percent of the remaining wetlands in the continental U.S. – are placed at risk of pollution and destruction under the 2003 policy.
Since 2003, the agencies have issued thousands of decisions declaring that certain wetlands, ponds, streams, and even rivers are no longer "waters of the United States" and could be polluted or destroyed at will. The agencies have reported making thousands of these "no jurisdiction" determinations. By contrast, in only about a dozen cases have field staff applied to headquarters asking that waters be protected from pollution.