Dirty Water Bill in the House

Update on the Dirty Water Bill: On June 22nd, the ‘Clean Water for Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011’ (H.R. 2018) passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure full committee. Now it will likely go to the floor to be voted on by the full House.

Contact Your Representative Today! Tell them you do not support this dirty water bill!

The latest attack on clean water takes the form of the ‘Clean Water for Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011’ (H.R. 2018) [PDF] introduced by Representative Jon Mica (R-FL). More accurately titled the “Dirty Water Act of 2011,” this bill has very little to do with actually protecting and restoring clean water supplies for our communities. Instead, this bill threatens the very safeguards in the Clean Water Act [PDF] that protect our safe, clean water.

Specifically, the bill attacks the shared responsibility between the states and the federal agencies for clean water. This careful balance allows states to take most of the responsibility for clean water programs, but ensures that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sufficient oversight to make sure citizens in all states have similar access to clean and safe water.  As an example, the bill removes the EPA’s authority to object to state-approved permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which was put in place to manage discharges of pollutants into our water. The EPA would also lose its ability to revise state water quality standards when those standards fail to protect clean water without approval from the states.

The bill also takes away EPA’s authority to veto dredge and fill permits [PDF] issued by the Army Corps of Engineers when a proposed activity would discharge dredge or fill materials into our rivers, lakes, and streams. Activities like mountaintop removal mining, for instance, where the tops of mountains are blown off to expose coal seams and the surrounding valleys and streams are filled with discarded rubble, would no longer be subject to veto by the EPA. This veto authority is scarcely used – it has only been employed 13 times. But when EPA does use this authority, it’s to stop projects that harm people and clean water.

In other words, this bill turns the Clean Water Act on its head by removing important checks on state programs.

With all of the “job-killing regulations” rhetoric floating around these days, it’s easy to forget that it is the responsibility of federal agencies like the EPA to protect the public, ensuring that we have clean air to breathe and safe water to drink. Safeguards put in place to protect us often have compliance costs, but time and again their benefits have been shown to outweigh these costs. In fact, a study by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shows that between 2000 and 2010, the benefits of major regulations far exceeded the costs [PDF].

Across the country, people want and expect our waterways to be protected and believe that clean water is an American value. In a recent Gallup poll, concerns about polluted water tops the list of environmental concerns among Americans.

When Congress adopted the Clean Water Act in 1972, it was to prevent pollution and protect clean water – relying on a careful balance between state and federal responsibility and public participation. This dirty water bill disrupts this balance and threatens the health of rivers, lakes, and streams across the country.