House Adds New Attacks on Clean Water

Last week, I wrote about two handfuls of dirty water “riders” in the House of Representatives’ funding bill for EPA and the Department of the Interior.  This week, the bill is being considered on the House floor, and yet even more riders have appeared.  More will appear in the coming hours and days, but here’s my latest information about the new and varied ways that the House might undermine fundamental protections for clean water. 

  • I neglected to mention a provision in my last post that is now included in the bill.  In committee, Rep. Emerson (R-MO) got an amendment included (it’s now section 456) that would prohibit EPA from identifying wetlands in counties that have been included in a major disaster declaration due to flooding this year, thus making them more susceptible to destruction.  This one is truly bizarre, as a single acre of wetland can store 1 to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater, so folks concerned with flood prevention should want to maximize the wetland acres that are preserved, not make it easier to bulldoze them.
  • Representative Denham (R-CA) is expected to offer an amendment that would prohibit funding for restoration of salmon to the San Joaquin River.  This provision would undermine the settlement agreement between the federal government, farmers, fishermen, and conservation groups and could force the case back to court.
  • We’re hearing that Representative McKinley (R-WV) may offer an amendment to 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.  EPA has used this authority sparingly – only 13 times since the law was enacted in 1972.  In other words, it is reserved for truly bad projects where the discharger cannot or will not curtail the impacts to water resources, but this attack would force EPA to ignore the scientific evidence of the harms caused by destructive dumping proposals.  
  • Reportedly, Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) may offer an amendment that would sabotage decades of work by state and federal officials and by concerned citizens, which culminated when EPA released a comprehensive cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay watershed in December.  If it is the same amendment he inserted in the FY11 spending bill, it would prohibit EPA from enforcing this plan if states fail to meet their pollution control commitments and, by doing so, could frustrate the restoration of this national treasure and important fishery.
  • Representative Latham (R-IA) has filed an amendment to stop a planned collection of water pollution information from the largest industrial livestock facilities (also known as “factory farms”).  Confined animals generate approximately 500 million tons of manure every year, which is more than three times the amount of human waste produced, and which gets nowhere near the same kind of pollution control treatment.  This waste contains nitrogen and phosphorus, suspended solids, bacteria and viruses, organic compounds, antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones, and it is commonly discharged into the environment.  Sounds like something EPA should be able to gather information about, don’t you think?

Thanks to these and many other riders – catalogued on NRDC’s new rider website -- this bill is the worst piece of anti-environmental legislation Congress has ever considered.  Although the White House thankfully threatened that President Obama may veto the bill, Representatives still need to hear from their constituents that these kind of attacks are unacceptable.  Otherwise, we may see a reprise of last fiscal year, where the House leadership took the nation to the brink of a government shutdown in pursuit of a host of dirty policy riders.  Please take a couple of minutes to look up your Representative’s office phone number, and give him/her a call to explain why you oppose all of these pro-polluter riders and this dirty water (and air, and land…) bill.

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