Rough Rider: A New Attack on Clean Water

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Uh oh.  Here they go again. 

You may remember that the new House leadership a couple months ago took the nation to the brink of a government shutdown, fighting for a spending bill to which they’d attached a pile of policy “riders” aimed at keeping the government from implementing various initiatives they opposed.  Many of these riders were anti-environmental in nature, as my colleague David Goldston summarized, and a scary chunk of those were anti-clean-water.  They also had nothing to do with saving money, and everything to do with trying to sneak major policy overhauls into must-pass legislation.

Though we dodged most of these bullets in the fight over the spending bill for the current fiscal year, we predicted that we had a lot more dodging in our future.  As NRDC’s Water Program director David Beckman wrote in the wake of the budget fight:

We fully expect that many of the dirty policy riders we beat back this time will rear their heads again. They could appear in the appropriations bills for FY12, in the legislation that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and as stand-alone measures.

This week brings proof that we’re pretty psychic, or that polluter-friendly politicians are pretty predictable.  Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee will consider a funding bill for Energy and Water Development, and one of the most egregious of the riders from earlier this year is back.   As introduced, section 109 of the bill reads:

None of the funds made available by this Act or any subsequent Act making appropriations for Energy and Water Development may be used by the Corps of Engineers to develop, adopt, implement, administer, or enforce a change or supplement to the rule dated November 13, 1986, or guidance documents dated January 15, 2003, and December 2, 2008, pertaining to the definition of waters under the jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.).

What that gobbledygook means is this: unless and until Congress changes the law, the Corps would be permanently prohibited from changing its rules defining what waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, or changing a pair of policy memoranda that EPA and the Corps issued during the Bush administration – memos that have had the real-world effect of denying Clean Water Act coverage to countless streams and wetlands.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, EPA and the Corps recently took critical first steps to overhaul their guidelines and update their regulations to better protect important waters, so this rider seeks to kill this good government initiative.


Consequently, the rider threatens resources that are critical to public health, safety, and aquatic ecosystems.  Headwaters and wetlands absorb flood waters (in light of recent events, an obvious public benefit), they filter pollutants from contaminated water, they contribute to the drinking water supply of over 117 million Americans, they support fish and waterfowl prized by anglers and hunters, and they feed our iconic rivers and lakes.

You don’t need to stand for this.  You can show that you support clean water and urge decision-makers to reject this stealth attack on the protections that our treasured waters deserve.  Here’s how:

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