The Clean Water Act is the most important federal law protecting water quality and reducing pollution, ensuring clean water for wildlife and communities alike. The previous Administration attempted the most severe weakening of clean water protections in history by removing Clean Water Act protections for at least half of America’s wetlands and streams and undermining the careful balancing of state and federal responsibilities in administering the law. The EPA should immediately act to repeal these rollbacks, replacing them with rules that are more protective of wetlands and streams, provide clarity for all stakeholders, and are informed by the best available science and broad stakeholder input. At the same time, Congress should conduct strong oversight as federal agencies work to review regulations and restore longstanding safeguards. Additionally, Congress should reject any legislative efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act and instead support legislation that clarifies the EPA’s longstanding obligation to protect our nation’s waters, from the smallest headwaters and wetlands to the largest rivers and lakes.
Every person in America should have access to clean drinking water. Congress should also reauthorize and increase funding levels for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and codify a 20% set aside for green infrastructure approaches. States use the SRFs to provide low-interest loans and grants to communities to finance projects that improve drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. Increased funding—including additional assistance in the form of grants instead of loans—should prioritize resources for communities that need it most to ensure safe, reliable, affordable drinking water and resilient protections from flooding.
Congress must also invest in critical federal programs that equip communities with resources to address increasing water quality challenges on a local and watershed-wide scale. Congress should provide robust appropriations for programs that repair and upgrade water infrastructure, strengthen the resiliency of water systems, support enforcement and permitting requirements, and strengthen nutrient pollution and PFAS reduction efforts. This federal funding must be directed to frontline communities that need it most.
From the Great Lakes to the Everglades, America’s great watersheds help define us as a nation, providing fishing and boating opportunities, drinking water, and incredible wildlife habitat—and they need more attention than ever in the face of a changing climate.
Congress should provide robust federal funding—both through regular appropriations and any economic stimulus legislation—for critical EPA, Army Corps, and Department of the Interior ecosystem restoration and pollution reduction programs that support large-scale restoration efforts across the country, including in the Great Lakes, Mississippi River Delta, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware River Basin. Additionally, the federal government should fund Everglades restoration efforts at $725 million annually to accelerate the ecosystem benefits of restoration, taking advantage of state matching funds to get this project across the finish line.
New regional restoration efforts should be established and resourced in the 15-state Ohio River Basin, and along the mainstem of the Mississippi River through authorization of a Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative.
Along the Gulf coast, an unprecedented restoration effort continues to unfold with the funds from the BP oil spill settlement. These investments must be coordinated and leveraged with other federal spending, including on infrastructure or economic recovery, to create jobs and drive large-scale restoration and climate resilience. In the Mississippi River Delta, federal and state agencies must collaborate to ensure swift implementation of freshwater and sediment diversion projects—an indispensable tool for restoring Louisiana’s nationally-significant wetlands.
Flooding is the most expensive type of natural disaster in the United States. After repeated short-term extensions of the program, Congress must act to fully reauthorize and reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Any reauthorization should require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to increase the accuracy of flood maps using the most modern science and technology, thoroughly integrate future risks due to climate change, encourage pre-disaster mitigation prioritizing natural infrastructure to reduce risk, and support a continued glidepath toward premiums which reflect accurate levels of risk, with means-tested assistance for those who cannot afford actuarial rates. FEMA must reduce current barriers to funding natural infrastructure projects for hazard mitigation, such as the incomplete benefit valuation of ecosystemservices in FEMA’s Benefit-Cost Analysis Toolkit. The agency should also work to provide increased capacity-building and technical assistance funding, and simplify the grant application process to provide equitable access to mitigation funding across all communities. Congress should continue to reduce incentives for risky development in floodplains and along our coastlines, including through improvements to the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.
To help wildlife and communities thrive in the face of more intense and frequent storms and droughts, Congress should also provide strong oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers’ implementation of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 provisions that advance the use of natural infrastructure for flood protection and improve Corps engagement with economically disadvantaged and Tribal communities. The next WRDA bill should build upon these positive provisions and leverage the protective value of natural infrastructure as we increase ecosystem and community resilience.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has a critical role to play in promoting climate resilience along our coastlines and supporting climate science. Robust appropriations for NOAA programs, including those within the National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, is critical to protect our coasts and ocean environments. Congress must recognize the ocean as a critical part of the climate solution, and take action to preserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems, increase resources available for coastal community resilience, better protect forage fish—species that constitute the foundation of ocean food chains—through passage of the Forage Fish Conservation Act, promote responsible development of offshore wind, and address the plastic pollution crisis.
Photo credits: BLM (California sea lions), NOAA NMFS (right whale and calf), Dave Menke/USFWS (red-throated loon), Sam Farkas, NOAA OAR Photo Contest 2014 (manatee and calf), NOAA (Big Sur coastline)
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.