Nation's Clean Air and Clean Water Laws at Risk From Energy Bill

Anti-environmental riders threaten nation's premiere clean air and water protections


Cory Magnus, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up a comprehensive energy bill this week that has been saddled with special interest, anti-environmental riders threatening the nation’s premier clean air and water protections. Conferees negotiating the bill are considering language that would weaken clean air protections for some of the most polluted cities in the country, while also exempting certain oil and gas activities from Clean Water Act requirements, creating significant health risks in our communities. These are not the only provisions in the bill that would undermine the country’s long-standing environmental safeguards, but they are among the most egregious.

Special Interest Rider Exempts Oil and Gas Industry from the Clean Water Act

One rider threatens 30 years of work to clean up our nation’s waters. Oil and gas industry lobbyists are trying to get Congress to give them an exemption from Clean Water Act provisions that limit stormwater pollution from construction sites. They managed to slip a provision in the House version on the energy bill that would give them this special interest loophole. Under the Act, businesses must take steps to limit polluted runoff from construction sites – runoff that causes excess sediment to build up in streams and rivers, killing fish and other aquatic life. Stormwater runoff from construction sites can even contain toxic chemicals, such as benzene, toluene, and heavy metals that also pollute our nation’s waters, even threatening the safety of drinking water supplies. EPA has required all construction activities that disturb greater than one acre of land to obtain stormwater permits. Yet the oil and gas industry thinks they should not have to comply with the law – they want Congress to change the law so they can pollute without limits that apply to other companies. The proposed conference language (Sec. 328) would create a new, expansive exemption to include oil and gas “construction activities.”

As members of the Energy Bill conference committee continue to meet this week to work out the final version of H.R. 6, Rep. Bob Filner (CA) and other House members will offer a “motion to instruct” the conferees to reject this special interest give-away for oil and gas companies. The vote on the Filner “motion to instruct” could occur as soon as tomorrow, Thursday November 6.

Dirty Air Provision Threatens Public Health

The Clean Air Act was created by Congress to uphold the air quality in our nation’s communities. However, the “dirty air rider” on the energy bill would drastically weaken clean air protections for some of the most polluted cities in the nation, including Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge. These unfair provisions would allow certain cities to delay implementation of health-protecting clean air measures already adopted in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. Even worse, the inclusion of this rider in the final energy bill would force millions of Americans to breathe dirty air long past current cleanup deadlines, and would mean more days when children, senior citizens and others are exposed to dangerous levels of pollution just by stepping outside their front doors.

On Thursday, October 30, The House defeated a “motion to instruct” offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) that asked the House conferees to delete the dirty air rider from the energy bill. Both Republicans and Democrats supported the Johnson motion to instruct. While this motion did not succeed, its strong bipartisan support should instruct members of both parties in the Senate and House who care about clean air to continue to object to this unhealthy, unwarranted provision from being included in the final energy bill.

Congress should ensure that energy development and production is balanced with all other uses and values of our nation’s natural resources, including protecting the quality of our air, waters, and fish and wildlife habitats, as well as recreational areas, wildlands, and the protections of important cultural and agricultural sites. The special interest give-aways in the energy bill are clearly attempts to place oil and gas development above all other values – including our right to clean air and water.

Take action to protect clean air & water from oil & gas special interests!

If you would like more information on these energy bill exemptions that threaten the health of our lakes, streams, rivers, air quality, and communities, please contact:

Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 223 (Clean Water Act)

David Baron, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 220 (Clean Air Act)

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