Congress moves to restore Clean Water Act protections

New legislation would help reinstate environmental protections for all of America’s waters, not just some

04-21-2010 // Aileo Weinmann
Photo of a stream and evergreen trees in Dolly Sods Wilderness area, Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia

The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced legislation that would restore critical Clean Water Act protections for streams, lakes, wetlands and other important waters. The America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act would help sustain the healthy habitat, robust fish and wildlife populations and range of economic benefits that rely on America’s waterways and wetlands and would reverse recent Supreme Court decisions that jeopardize the nation’s water resources.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, responds to calls from groups like the National Wildlife Federation for congressional action that strengthens conservation measures for water and wetland ecosystems in the wake of the controversial 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions.

The bill represents a new approach to addressing threats posed by the Supreme Court’s SWANCC and Rapanos decisions by including

  • provisions that reinforce that the bill’s purpose simply is to restore Clean Water Act protections to waters protected prior to the SWANCC decision;
  • a more specific definition of “waters of the United States” that closely follows the definition the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have used for decades;
  • new exemptions for prior converted cropland and certain waste treatment systems;
  • specific references to Congress’s constitutional authority to conserve and restore the nation’s waters.

“The America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act reflects Representative Oberstar’s commitment to listen to a wide spectrum of interests when developing legislation for Congress to consider,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, wetlands and water resources counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. The EPA and state agencies are finding enforcement of the Clean Water Act increasingly difficult under current law. By acting now, the House of Representatives can conserve drinking water, irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and our nation’s outdoor legacy.”

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