Monday, April 21, 2008

The Clean Water Restoration Act

The Clean Water Act is unquestionably one of the seminal works of environmental legislation in the United States. Signed in 1972 by Richard Nixon (say it with me - "I never though I'd miss Nixon" - not that I was sentient during his tenure) it (and its subsequent addenda) have provided a strong defense against the aggregious pollution of surface waters that had historically occured in the United States.

The CWA was interpreted broadly, and allowed regulation of many waters, and many pollutants; including not-so-obvious ones like waste heat from thermoelectric power generation. And the act successfully protected nearly all the water in the country. Until July 19th, 2006, that is.

That is the day the SCOTUS issued its decision on the consolidated cases of Rapanos v. U.S. and Carabell v. U.S. (known jointly as the "Rapanos" decision). The jurisdiction of the CWA applies to "waters of the United States" - a term was had historically been applied broadly. Rapanos redefined this, however:

"A plurality of the Court held that wetlands adjacent to non-navigable tributaries are “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act only if the tributary to which the wetland is adjacent is a relatively permanent waterbody and the wetland has a continuous surface connection with the tributary." - US EPA
The upshot? 50-60% of the waters in the United States were no longer considered waters of the United States.

Our very own Russ Feingold (D-WI) has stepped into the breach, offering up the Clean Water Restoration Act to the Senate, which would re-define the CWA's scope to cover those things that one would have thought it covered all along. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on April 9th. The House version of the bill was introduced by Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and currently has 175 co-sponsors.

Of course the bill is not without its critics; Noted climate change denialist and all-around crank Rep. James Inhofe (R-OK) said:

"This bill, as currently written, will expand federal jurisdiction authority in a way that pushes the outer limits of Congress’s constitutional role."
Well, thanks James. Far be it from Congress to say you can't poison over half of the nation's waters. And good luck with that climate change thing, too - Oklahoma's going to come out pretty swell, water-wise, if you have your way.

So, you know the drill - call your reps and Senators and get them on board. The CWA made it almost 35 years before it was gutted - perhaps we can give it 35 more.

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