Maybe we should’ve expected it. The Boston Tea Party was certainly the 18th Century’s most well-known example of dumping into America’s waters, so maybe the Tea Partiers that led the Republican House to pass a dirty water bill that would open our waters to pollution far more pernicious than Earl Grey were just paying tribute to their namesakes.
I previewed the assault on clean water a few days ago, back when we knew about several reckless water pollution provisions in the spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year, and when we knew of several possible anti-water special interest earmarks that could be voted on. I am sorry to report that the House adopted every last disastrous one of them. Let’s go to the scoreboard (click on the links to see how individual members voted):
- The underlying bill, H.R. 1, was a rotten starting point. It contained massive cuts to the funds the U.S. provides to states for clean water and drinking water infrastructure. It sought to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to make clear what water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act, which would ensure that pollution controls are applied to a host of waters that have been at risk of unregulated dumping since a pair of messy Supreme Court cases and polluter-friendly interpretations of those cases made by the Bush administration. And it painted a bull’s eye on two critical California watersheds, the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem and the San Joaquin River. The bill containing these rollbacks ultimately passed 235-189 – a party-line vote with the exception of three Republicans voting against it.
- Amendment #216 (submitted by Rep. David McKinley, R-WV) would effectively strip EPA of the authority Congress gave it under the Clean Water Act to prohibit or restrict certain discharges that would have an “unacceptable adverse effect” on our water, fish or wildlife. The amendment passed 240-182.
- Amendment # 109 (submitted by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-VA) would shield mountaintop removal coal mining operations from review by EPA scientists, risking large-scale destruction of Appalachian streams and contamination of waters downstream of the mines. The amendment passed 235-185.
- Amendment #467 (submitted by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA) would undo decades of work by state and federal officials and by concerned citizens, by prohibiting EPA from enforcing a pollution cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay. Members defending the cleanup plan, including Mr. Moran (VA) and Mr. Van Hollen (MD) pointed out that this amendment was so poorly drafted that it would likely also limit the Department of Agriculture from providing financial assistance to farmers in the Bay watershed for the adoption of pollution control practices. The amendment passed 230-195.
- Amendment #498 (submitted by Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH) would keep the Office of Surface Mining within the Department of Interior from continuing work to revise regulations adopted in the waning days of the Bush administration that opened up streams to destructive and polluting practices associated with surface coal mining. The amendment passed 239-186.
- Amendment # 13 (submitted by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-FL) would keep EPA from taking modest steps that would promote the cleanup of Florida waterways. Today, many waters in the state are plagued by harmful algae blooms that can produce dangerous toxins and that can rob water bodies of the oxygen that fish need to live. The amendment passed 237-189.
Even though they would essentially gut major environmental laws, these amendments were considered in lightning-round fashion, with a few minutes of debate on each. It was hard to watch how cavalierly our Representatives would dismiss essential public health and environmental protections.
If you are looking for a silver lining in this mess, I think there are a few. Some – though not nearly enough – Republicans bucked the trend and voted the right way on several amendments. Leaders in the Senate said they are ready to send the House back to the drawing board, and President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. That means we may well be revisiting these dirty water provisions and other assaults all over again in coming weeks, during which time Americans will have a chance to see how their Representatives voted on these rollbacks. When they do, I hope they’ll let their members of Congress know that they don’t want more polluted water.