Since taking office, the Bush administration has already weakened or is in the process of weakening several key regulations designed to protect and clean up the nation’s waters. These anti-clean water policies threaten the health of families, communities, and wildlife said a spokesperson for the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice. Today, October 18, is the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
“The Bush administration is pursuing plans to dismantle significant portions of the Clean Water Act just as the law turns 30,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “From gutting the program that guides the cleanup of polluted waters, to eliminating a 25-year old ban on dumping mining and other industrial wastes into wetlands and streams, to abandoning the national ‘no net loss of wetlands’ goal, this administration’s actions pose the greatest threat to the nation’s waters in three decades.”
“The Clean Water Act has had many successes, but 30 years after embarking on this program to make all of the country’s waters clean enough to swim and fish in, a whopping 45 percent of waters are still too dirty to comply,” said Mulhern. “Congress and the public need to tell the Bush administration to cleanup these polluted waters instead of redesigning new rules that will make the other 55 percent dirtier.”
Their latest and perhaps most far reaching proposal to date, said Mulhern, was announced on September 19 when EPA and Army Corps of Engineer officials testified before a House committee that they have decided to reconsider what waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act at all. The agencies said they now question whether tributaries of navigable waters, streams that periodically dry up, and wetlands next to these waters should receive Clean Water Act protections. Such waters have been covered by the Clean Water Act since 1972 and by the law’s implementing regulations since 1975.
Administration officials claim that the new rulemaking is a response to a January, 2001 Supreme Court decision concerning “isolated” wetlands and subsequent lower court rulings concerning streams and wetlands. “Neither the Supreme Court ruling nor the majority of lower court rulings have suggested that any such weakening of Clean Water Act authority is warranted, let alone the sweeping proposal announced by the Bush administration,” said Mulhern. “The Court’s decision opened a crack in the door, but the Bush administration is kicking the door down.”
“No other president in the last 30 years – Republican or Democrat – has ever proposed such a significant cutback to Clean Water Act protections,” Mulhern added. “The goal of the Act – to make all of the nation’s waters safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses – cannot be met if the majority of waters are cut out of the law’s scope.”
“Polluting industries are circling Clean Water Act like sharks, each taking a few bites,” said Mulhern. “Unfortunately, the Bush administration is all too eager to feed the frenzy by giving them whatever they want. At this rate, soon there may not be enough left of the Clean Water Act to save the nation’s precious and irreplaceable water resources.”