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House Passes Bill That Could Undo Gains in Water Quality

A bill passed on July 13th by the House of Representatives would remove crucial federal oversight from the Clean Water Act (CWA) and leave the quality of our nation's waters at risk. The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018) would dismantle the federal-state relationship envisioned under the CWA by stripping EPA of its abilities to object to state-approved permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, revise state water quality standards, and veto dredge and fill permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

We [OMB Watch] blogged about this bill after it was introduced less than two months ago, cautioning that, by restricting or eliminating these important checks on state programs under the CWA, the bill would impair EPA's ability to effectively carry out its statutory duties and ensure that the goals of the act are met. Though presented as an effort to restore a system of cooperative federalism under the CWA, the bill is yet another attempt to diminish EPA's statutory authority. Disappointingly, this was a bipartisan effort. Sponsors John Mica (R-FL) and Nick Rahall (D-WV), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, moved the bill through committee June 22. The bill cleared the floor by a vote of 239-184, with 16 Democrats approving the measure. Three amendments were adopted, including one by Rep. Capito (R-WV) that would require EPA to conduct an economic impact assessment of each CWA regulation it issues.

But there is good news. Most Democrats voted against the overhaul of existing clean water policy, recognizing that the bill would negate significant improvements in water quality achieved under the CWA. In addition, the administration voiced opposition to the bill, stating it would "significantly undermine the Clean Water Act (CWA) and could adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment." And while the bill made it through the House, it is unlikely to receive similar support in the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee, where it now moves. BNA news service (subscription required) reported that, according to a democratic aide, we can "expect significant opposition to the bill in the EPW Committee."

(Katie Greenhaw 07/15/11)