Congress v Environment: House Committee OKs Dirty Water Bill

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…

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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

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.