Remembering Former Congressman James Oberstar’s Clean Water Legacy

Representative Oberstar | © House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

Representative Oberstar | © House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

One of the original architects of the Clean Water Act and a clean water champion throughout his life, Mr. James L. Oberstar passed away May 3, 2014.

Minnesota’s longest-serving House member, Congressman James Oberstar was first elected to Congress in 1974 and served until 2010. Starting in 2007, Mr. Oberstar served as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, but his work to better protect clean water began even before his election to Congress. In 1971, as a staff member for Congressman John Blatnik, Mr. Oberstar was instrumental in helping to draft the Clean Water Act. Throughout his Congressional career and particularly in his work through the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mr. Oberstar consistently championed efforts to support Clean Water Act protections for rivers.

Following two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006, protections for small streams and wetlands were put into question. The scope of the Clean Water Act was no longer clear, leaving waters across the country more vulnerable to pollution. In 2008, Mr. Oberstar along with Mr. Waxman, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a joint memo [PDF] demonstrating a significant decline in enforcement of the Clean Water Act following the Supreme Court cases and the resulting administrative guidance.

In April 2010, Mr. Oberstar re-introduced the America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act [PDF]. This bill would have clarified the scope of the Clean Water Act, restoring protections to small streams and wetlands that were put into question.

Mr. Oberstar will be remembered as a champion for clean water and healthy rivers. We are grateful for his many years of strong leadership on behalf of rivers and river communities. His passion and dedication to the protection of clean water is an inspiration.