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12/17/2008 11:28 AM     print story email story  

Bush Admin Helped Weaken Clean Water Act News

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 Nation's waters."

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."

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