The U.S. House Government Oversight Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a joint memorandum yesterday that highlights serious threats to the nation's waterways resulting from confusion surrounding the Clean Water Act.
The document points to more than 500 clean water enforcement cases that have been dropped or stalled following the 2006 Supreme Court decision in Rapanos v. United States.
A letter to President-elect Obama accompanying the memorandum concludes that "the federal government's Clean Water Act enforcement program has been decimated over the last two years, imperiling the health and safety of the nation's waters." The memorandum also details a troubling record of behind the scenes industry lobbying to weaken policies that were created to protect ground and surface water.
The 2006 Rapanos decision concerned protection of wetlands next to
non-navigable tributaries of navigable waters. The Court splintered
4-1-4 in the Rapanos decision. Despite the lack of any clear legal
standard, the decision has placed protection of many wetlands and
tributaries in doubt.
In 2007, the Bush Administration issued a
"guidance" to field officials purporting to give instructions on
implementing Rapanos. This guidance had the effect of even further
weakening Clean Water Act protections and was revised this
month with changes that made it less protective than the original, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
"This memorandum reveals what we always feare --the Clean Water Act is
being crushed by the current legal uncertainty and our important water
resources are suffering," said Jan Goldman-Carter Wetlands and Water
Resources Counsel for National Wildlife Federation. "It is time for
Congress to stop the bleeding and restore full protections to our
The memorandum hundreds of polluters have
been let off the hook because of legal uncertainty regarding what
waters the Clean Water Act protects. The Congressional committees
suggest that the problems they detail might only be the tip of iceberg.
They state that the current EPA has withheld hundreds of documents and
significantly redacted many documents that were provided.
"This Administration has only exacerbated a series of bad Supreme Court decisions by not enforcing the Clean Water Act and by placing development interests above those of the public," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar. "By withholding relevant information and misleading Congress our nation's waters have gone unprotected for too long. Only through Congressional action can we restore necessary Clean Water Act protections to our nation's waters."