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H.R. 2018 threatens to deconstruct the Clean Water Act

23 Jun 2011  |   Emma Brown

Tags: Clean Water, Congress, House

The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018)—a bill that if it were to become law would serve as the most severe assault on the Clean Water Act (CWA) in years—passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday on a 35-19 vote. 

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) introduced the bill as a way to curb what he called the EPA’s “regulating regime,” which he says stymies economic growth.

Yet the bill severely limits the EPA’s ability to ensure important clean water standards for the entire nation. Under H.R. 2018, the EPA is stripped of its authority under the CWA to implement water quality standards without state-by-state approval. Steve Fleischli of the National Resource Defense Councilexplains that the bill amends the CWA to:

  • "Limit the EPA’s ability to effectively implement or make necessary improvements to state water quality standards to deal with modern pollution challenges.
  • Prevent the EPA from improving numeric criteria for pollutants that have led to dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.
  • Restrict the EPA from upgrading standards for toxic pollutants where narrative standards only provide very limited protection (a common example being state standards that prohibit the 'discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts').
  • Prevent the EPA from vetoing state-issued Clean Water Act permits even if EPA concludes those permits are not protective of water quality.
  • Block the EPA’s ability to withhold federal funding to states even if EPA determines the state’s implementation of water quality standards is not protective of water quality."

The Clean Water Act was implemented in 1972, after a series of horrifying environmental incidents—including the polluted Cuyahoga River catching fire—demonstrated the need for stronger federal waterway protections.

Former Reporter Richard Ellers dips his hand into the polluted Cuyahoga River.
The photo was taken in the 1960’s, before federal standards mandated clean water policy.
Plain Dealer file photo. 

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