We meant to get back to our brief mention of potential Congressional action to destroy the Clean Water Act. The cynically named “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act,” HB 2018, turns the long-standing successful structure of the Clean Water Act on its head, stripping EPA oversight over water quality programs in the states.
The Clean Water Act has been a prime example of “cooperative federalism” common to environmental (and other federal) laws. Generally, the federal enabling legislation sets a basic structure and sets minimum standards and allows states do the implementation. NRDC explains it in this way:
The federal Clean Water Act provides a safety net for waterways across the country, where states must implement minimum provisions to protect water quality. States can always do more if they so choose, but the law recognizes that Americans deserve a minimum standard of protection no matter where they live, and the Clean Water Act is designed to prevent a “race to the bottom” in places where the benefits of clean water may be ignored for short term economic or political gain.
Now, Congress is preparing to eliminate the safety net. The opening statement of EPA’s “Technical Assessment H.R. 2018” says it bluntly: “The bill would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.” Furthermore, EPA’s assessment of HB 2018 says:
- “The bill would prevent EPA from providing its views on whether a proposed project that pollutes or even destroys lakes, streams, or wetlands would violate Clean Water Act standards.”
- “The bill would remove EPA’s existing state coordination role and eliminate the careful Federal/State balance established in the current Clean Water Act.”
- “The bill would prevent EPA from protecting communities from unacceptable adverse impacts to their water supplies and the environment caused by Federal permits.”
- “The bill would substantively eliminate the opportunity for EPA, the federal government’s expert on water quality, to comment on Federal permits impacting water quality and public health.
Ironically, Idaho is one of very few states that have not claimed control of Clean Water Act permitting, so some of the provisions would not “benefit” Idaho’s fiercely anti-federal attitudes.
Much of this congressional activity is rooted in the new politics in the U.S. House of Representatives, and simmering controversies over cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and lakes in Florida, and over EPA’s skepticism over mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Notwithstanding the specific regional concerns, it seems that forces in Congress seem bent on destroying the whole Clean Water Act for the whole of the country. By all accounts, this is the most serious attack on clean water in a long long time.
We’ve posted one link to take action via our local Waterkeepers. Here’s another one to take action via NRDC. Representatives — even the ones in Idaho — should hear from constituents who think that our water quality protections should be improved – not sacrificed on behalf of polluting industries in the service of some phony “federalism.”
UPDATE 7/12: The White House today issued a very rare veto threat on HB 2018. (A pdf) We hope it works.