The results of a Congressional investigation released today details the deterioration of the Clean Water Act enforcement program in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that called into question whether certain rivers, streams, wetlands and other waters remain protected from pollution.
The investigation, by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, uncovered information EPA is keeping hidden from Congressional investigators and the public: namely the details of over 500 clean water enforcement cases that have been dropped or stalled in the wake of the 2006 Rapanos decision — almost half of the agency’s annual water enforcement docket.
“We have known for some time that the Clean Water Act is broken and that thousands of streams, rivers and wetlands have lost federal anti-pollution protections,” said Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice Legislative Counsel. “But now we know the extent to which the Bush administration has been covering up the problem.”
“While the committees’ report is very revealing, the EPA’s cover-up continues. They are still withholding documents on hundreds of dropped enforcement actions, and the information they did give the chairmen redacted identifying information that would tell the American people which water bodies have been contaminated illegally with oil spills, fills, and other industrial discharges by polluters,” Mulhern added. “The new administration must immediately reverse this pattern of leaving waters unprotected and hiding the mess from the public, and support swift Congressional passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act.”
A leaked EPA memo reported that in the period between July 2006 through December 2007, 305 Clean Water Act enforcement cases were dropped and 147 were officially “de-prioritized.” In 63 additional instances, polluters have used the Bush administration’s interpretation of the Supreme Court decision as a shield against enforcement.
The regions with the most lost enforcement actions are EPA Region 6, which includes the states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, where 138 enforcement cases were dropped, and EPA Region 8, which includes the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, where 106 enforcement cases have been dropped.
“We thank Chairman Oberstar and Chairman Waxman for this investigation and their determination not to let the Bush administration off this hook for this huge breakdown in Clean Water enforcement and its proclivity for allowing polluting industries to set the nation’s clean water policies,” Mulhern said. “Earthjustice hopes to work closely with Congress and the next administration to get the needed legislative fix enacted as quickly as possible.”