Fresh Attack on Fresh Water

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This morning, a key committee in the House of Representatives will consider and likely move forward a bill - which has only been public for a few days - attacking a years-long initiative to protect waterways that we use as sources of drinking water, swim in, fish from, and boat on. Sponsors of this bill call it the "Regulatory Integrity Protection Act," but it is more appropriately dubbed the "R.I.P. Act," as it would kill a nearly-complete public rulemaking process to restore Clean Water Act safeguards against pollution and destruction for a majority of the nation's waterways. Killing this commonsense rule is a key element of the Republican Congressional leadership's Big Polluter Agenda.

The R.I.P. Act will indefinitely delay protections for water bodies that the science overwhelmingly shows are vital to the chemical, physical, and biological health of downstream waters, including streams that feed into the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans. And the bill would postpone the adoption of clear rules of the road under the Clean Water Act, for which regulated industries, state and local officials, sportsmen and environmental groups, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, agricultural organizations, small businesses and others have called. These clearer standards - which actually will protect fewer resources than were covered by policies in place during the Reagan administration - are essential to ensure a consistent baseline level of pollution controls across the country.

The content of the final rule is not yet public, yet the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have stated repeatedly that the rule will incorporate the public input received on the proposal - nearly 90 percent of which was supportive of the rule. Cutting off the rulemaking process at this late date would be enormously wasteful.

The R.I.P. Act is not necessary to ensure that the Clean Water Rule follows appropriate rulemaking processes, because the agencies have done so assiduously. Indeed, the bill would require EPA and the Army Corps to start a brand new rulemaking process that effectively duplicates the unprecedented outreach and analysis the agencies have already done in developing the rule. Specifically, the R.I.P. Act would direct EPA and the Army Corps to discuss the rule with stakeholders with whom they have already engaged extensively, consider factors the agencies have been evaluating for years, and develop a final rule as they already have. As such, the bill exposes the fact that opponents have no real beef with the agencies' process, but instead want to add new delays before improved pollution protections can be implemented. Given that the current lengthy rulemaking follows more than a decade of work to restore clarity about what kinds of water bodies are entitled to the pollution control protections in the Clean Water Act, Congress must reject this bill and if the Republican leadership manages to send it to the President, he must veto it.