July 15, 2011
On Tuesday, July 12, the House Appropriations Committee approved an appropriations bill for the Department of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies that would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by 18-precent. The full House is expected to vote on the bill the week of July 25th.
The bill also includes several riders to severely limit EPA’s authority to protect the nation’s waters. The “dirty water” riders of most interest to agriculture include:
* Blocking EPA from finalizing a Guidance Document that clarifies what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act and restores protection to stream headwaters, ephemeral streams, and other waters that are particularly important for rural areas;
* Prohibiting EPA from regulating pesticide discharges into water under the Clean Water Act, an EPA authority recognized the by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case National Cotton Council v. EPA; and
* Preventing the regulation of stormwater discharges from a host of silvicultural activities.
On July 13, the full House of Representatives approved the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act (H.R. 2018). Currently, the federal Clean Water Act provides for standards and measures to protect water quality throughout the nation. The Act authorizes the states to administer much of the Clean Water Act under state laws that meet these minimum federal standards. The states are allowed to adopt state law measures that are more protective of clean water and public health than the federal Act.
H.R. 2018 would repeal important EPA oversight of state administration of the federal Clean Water Act. EPA would no longer be able to intervene if a state’s water quality standards are inadequate to protect public health and aquatic life. EPA would also be barred from preventing a state from issuing Clean Water Act pollutant permits that violate water quality standards. For instance, under H.R. 2018 a state would be allowed to issue permits to industrial facilities or CAFOs that allow pollutant discharge levels that degrade a river or stream below the water quality standard without concern about EPA intervention.
In addition, H.R. 2018 would limit EPA’s review of Clean Water Act Section 404 permits for dredging and filling wetlands and other waters. Currently under the Clean Water Act, EPA has oversight authority to review the actions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is charged with the day-to-day operation of the Section 404 permit program. EPA has used this authority to veto Army Corps action on permits only 13 times in the last thirty-eight years. This EPA veto power has been critical in protecting municipal water supplies, shellfish beds, recreational waters and other water-related activities. Under H.R. 2018, EPA’s veto of a Section 404 permit based on the determination of an adverse effect on water quality could be blocked by the state where the dredge and fill activity occurred. Not only could the waters of that state be harmed but water in downstream states that depend on EPA oversight of interstate waters could also be harmed.
President Obama issued a Statement of Administrative Policy indicating that he would veto H.R. 2018, emphasizing that it would destroy the cooperative federalism provided in the Clean Water Act that has allowed states to choose to deal directly with its citizens and businesses while meeting minimum national standards for clean water.
For more information and updates on these bills and other congressional action concerning water quality, see the Clean Water Network’s Dirty Water Bills website.