2009 algal bloom at Bolles School dock
Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act (HR 2018), a bill that threatens the health of our nation’s waterways, including the St. Johns River. This bill would turn back the clock on forty years of environmental and public health protections and economic benefits that have been provided to us by the Clean Water Act.
Sponsored by Rep. John Mica (FL) and Rep. Nick Rahall (WV), H.R. 2018 would severely limit our ability to ensure the protection of our waterways and our rights as citizens to clean and healthy water. Representatives also voted against an amendment that would have ensured continued protection of municipal drinking water sources.
Here is what H.R. 2018 would do:
- Prevent states from protecting their waterways from pollution that is discharged upstream or by neighboring states.
- Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring states to update and revise water quality standards that don’t adequately protect rivers, lakes, springs, and estuaries.
- Create a system of inconsistent water quality rules, regulations and programs that don’t provide adequate protections for our nation’s waterways.
- Allow states failing to meet minimal federal clean water standards to continue receiving federal taxpayer funding for inadequate programs.
- Prevent the EPA from providing a safety net and intervening, when necessary, in proposed permits and projects that would threaten the health of waterways and drinking water supplies. The EPA has apparently exercised this authority only 13 times in the 40 years of the Clean Water Act, most recently to prohibit a mine from filling six miles of Appalachian streams with its waste.
Rep. Mica apparently sponsored the legislation in retaliation for the numeric nutrient criteria that was esablished by the EPA to address Florida's widespread nutrient pollution problem. Excessive nutrients from sewage, fertilizer runoff, and municipal and commercial wastewater continue to trigger toxic algal blooms and fish kills throughout the state.
The truth is that EPA was forced to step in and establish these important safeguards for Florida’s polluted waterways, because our state politicians and the FL Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) failed to fulfill this important responsibility. The DEP has repeatedly acknowledged the benefit and need for numeric nutrient criteria, yet failed to follow through despite having over a decade to get the job done.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (FDEP) 2010 Integrated Water Quality Assessment for Florida, approximately 569 square miles of estuaries, 1,918 miles of rivers and streams, and 378,435 acres of lakes were identified as impaired by nutrients.
This recent water quality data and the fact that our state has failed to implement nutrient pollution protections in a timely manner demonstrate the importance of the Clean Water Act and the benefit of oversight and shared authority to ensure the protection of our waterways.
Local Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Cliff Stearns also voted for the bill. Click here to see how all of the Representatives voted.
For additional information, read this outstanding guest column in the Augusta Chronicle by the Savannah Riverkeeper.