A bipartisan group of 127 members of the U.S. House of Representatives took action today to ensure that the nation’s streams, wetlands, natural ponds and other waters remain protected by the federal Clean Water Act. Led by Representatives James Oberstar (D-MN), James Leach (R-IA), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and John Dingell (D-MI), the lawmakers reintroduced the “Clean Water Authority Restoration Act,” a bill aimed at protecting the thousands of miles of rivers and streams and millions of acres of wetlands that are currently threatened with pollution and destruction from a Bush administration policy that seeks to prevent enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
The reintroduction of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act and its bipartisan leadership drew support from the nation’s leading environmental and conservation organizations.
“The growing momentum behind this important legislation is a good sign for the health of the nation’s waters and the people and wildlife that depend on them for survival,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Joan Mulhern. “Today, there are more than five times as many original cosponsors of this bill than when it was introduced in the 108th Congress – this is a big step in the right direction for clean water.”
“This legislation is needed to reaffirm protection for streams, wetlands and other waters that the Clean Water Act has provided for more than 30 years,” said Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “We thank Representatives Boehlert, Dingell, Leach, and Oberstar for taking a stand for all of America’s waters.”
“This legislation would protect America’s waters for wildlife and for future generations,” said Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation Wetlands Policy Specialist. “The broad bipartisan support for this legislation sends a message that the American people expect protection for all our nation’s waters. Passing this legislation would help ensure that the Clean Water Act is enforced across the board.”
Since the 1970s, the Clean Water Act’s implementing regulations have explicitly included broad protections for the nation’s waters, including the many streams, ponds, and wetlands that provide recreation opportunities, commercial fishing, and wildlife habitat. But since January 2003, federal regulators have been instructed to withhold protection from entire categories of waters, jeopardizing the future of as many as 60 percent of the nation’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.
Over the last two years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made thousands of individual decisions under this policy concluding that certain wetlands, streams, lakes and rivers should no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act. According to a report released last August by Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, and Sierra Club, some of the many waters left unprotected include an 86-acre lake in Wisconsin, a 150-mile-long river in New Mexico, a 4000-acre tract of wetlands in Florida, and a 70-mile-long canal in California that is used as a drinking water supply. The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act would fix this problem by reaffirming that the Clean Water Act protects all such “waters of the United States” as traditionally defined by Congress and the courts.
“All Americans expect and deserve clean water,” said Navis Bermudez, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club’s Clean Water Campaign. “We applaud Congressman Oberstar and his colleagues for their leadership in reaffirming important protections to our waterways and safeguarding them from industry pollution.”
“Too many waters in the U.S. are not safe for swimming and fishing,” said Christy Leavitt, Clean Water Advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “With this bipartisan legislation, Congress is taking an important step to restore the health of all of our waterways.”
“This bill reaffirms what Congress knew when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972,” said Clean Water Action National Program Coordinator Paul Schwartz, “that Americans want all of our waters protected.”
Daniel Rosenberg, NRDC, 202-289-2389
Julie Sibbing, NWF, 202-797-6832
Navis Bermudez, Sierra Club, 202-675-2392
Christy Leavitt, U.S. PIRG, 202-546-9707
Paul Schwartz, Clean Water Action , 202-895-0420
Read the report: Reckless Abandon: How the Bush Administration is Exposing America’s Waters to Harm