Tell Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to back off his attempts to weaken the Clean Water Act.
Senator Rubio has joined Rand Paul (R-KY), Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) in introducing a bill that would substantially weaken the Clean Water Act (CWA), one of the most successful and important pieces of environmental legislation ever passed by Congress. By significantly limiting the coverage provided by the CWA, the "Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2015" bill would make it more difficult to protect water quality and restore polluted waterways.
Here are some of the key provisions of the bill and the reasons we should all be alarmed. Take action to help stop this bad bill.
- The bill would potentially exclude most wetlands from protection under the CWA by providing coverage for only "permanent, standing, or continuously flowing bodies of waters commonly known as streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes that are connected to waters that are navigable-in-fact." Wetlands are critical to clean water, acting as kidneys that filter out pollutants. They also store flood waters and buffer communities from storms, recharge our groundwater, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat.
- The bill excludes "isolated" wetlands from coverage. These are wetlands that are not directly connected to a navigable waterway but are critical to water quality. Indiana University researchers recently found that"gegraphically isolated wetlands provide important benefits such as sediment and carbon retention, nutrient transformation and water-quality improvement, all of which are critical for maintaining water quality." An article by the researchers published in the journal BioScience demonstrates "that continued loss of these wetlands would likely cause serious harm to North American waters."
- Other waters that would be excluded include "man-made or natural structures or channels through which water flows intermittently or ephemerally." According to a blog post by the Natural Resource Defense Council, this would deny protections to "59% — nearly two million miles — of the streams in the U.S., excluding Alaska, flow seasonally or in response to rain."
- Federal protections would no longer apply to the waterways that are excluded in the bill. This would give sole responsibility of these waterbodies to the states, potentially leading to much weaker protections, no oversight, and inconsistent rules from state to state.
- Vague language in the bill could make it easier for upstream industrial operations to pollute waterways by making it more difficult for federal agencies to protect downstream communities and landowners.
- The Environmental Protection Agency could no longer "promulgate any rules or issue any guidance that expands or interprets the definition of navigable waters" without authorization from Congress. This would prevent agencies from updating rules with the latest science, providing guidance to eliminate ambiguity and facilitate implementation, and ensuring important wetlands are protected.
- Government officials could not enter private property to investigate potential pollution problems or violations without the consent of the landowner. This would allow polluters the opportunity to intentionally delay investigations or provide enough time to clean up spills and conceal violations.
- If property is diminished in value by a regulation related to the definition of navigable waters, the agency issuing the regulation "shall pay the affected property owner an amount equal to twice the value of the loss" and payment shall come from the "general operations of the agency." The financial risk posed by this requirement would likely discourage agencies from promulgating necessary rules. Furthermore, the value of the loss would only need to be "determined by an independent appraiser." Also, the regulation could not go into effect until "each landowner with a claim under this section relating to that regulation has been compensated." This could indefinitely delay the implementation of important protections.
Tell Senator Rubio to back off his attempts to weaken the Clean Water Act (CWA). Let him know that we can't have clean water without wetlands, without effective rules and regulations, and without agencies that have the power to implement and enforce those protections.
Remind Senator Rubio that the Clean Water Act was unanimously passed by the Senate in 1971 and has been responsible for cleaning up many of our countries most important waterways, including the St. Johns River. Prior to the CWA, Jacksonville was dumping medical waste and up to 15 million gallons of raw sewage into the St. Johns River every day. In 1971, the Duval County Health Department reported that one could contract 27 different communicable diseases by swimming acoss the St. Johns near the Main Steet Bridge. While the St. Johns still faces significant pollution problems today, the Clean Water Act has been instramental in cleaning up many of the point sources of pollution that resulted in the St. Johns being called "an open sewer." We must do more to protect our wetlands and strengthen water quality protections, not less.
This post was written with the help of information from the Natural Resource Defense Council. Learn more about this important issue by visiting the NRDC website.