Regrettably, the U.S. House of Representatives has rejected an amendment that would clarify guidance for the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in protecting waters and wetlands.
But in this era in which headlines and hype trump facts and reality, I’m not surprised. Not long ago, we learned what a bully the federal government can be with its enforcement of the Clean Water Act. That undoubtedly colored judgment for many who voted against the amendment.
Little more than two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court came down forcefully on the side of an Idaho couple (Sacketts) in their fight against the EPA, ruling that the couple can challenge an agency order to stop construction of their home on a property designated as a wetland.
In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court said the EPA cannot impose fines that could be as much as $75,000 a day without giving property owners the ability to challenge its actions.
“The reach of the Clean Water Act is notoriously unclear,” said Scalia.
“Any piece of land that is wet at least part of the year is in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands covered by the act, and according to the federal government, if property owners begin to construct a home on a lot that the agency thinks possesses the requisite wetness, the property owners are at the agency’s mercy.”
The Sacketts’ home site is near a lake, but completely landlocked and within an existing subdivision.
Yeah, I know, that seems to argue for the amendment and for clarification. But government over-reach in Idaho cast EPA and its enforcement of the Clean Water Act in a negative light for many Congressmen.
As did the comments from an EPA official regarding his policy of "crucifying" non-compliant oil and gas companies.
The Izaak Walton League, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership provided the following information about the issue:
The U.S. House of Representatives today struck a blow against Clean Water Act protections for streams that supply drinking water to 117 million Americans and wetlands that provide critical flood protection and fish and wildlife habitat. The full House rejected an amendment to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with Clean Water Act guidance and a future rulemaking.
The FY 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations bill (HR 5325), which the House debated today, includes a provision barring the Corps of Engineers from taking any steps – next year or in any future year – to revise the agency’s guidance on waters protected by the Clean Water Act. Representatives Jim Moran (VA) and John Dingell (MI) offered an amendment to strike this damaging provision, which would allow the Corps to finalize and implement new, science-based clean water guidance. Members of Congress who opposed this amendment voted to maintain the status quo of wetlands loss, stream pollution, and regulatory confusion.
“The vote today represented a clear choice between restoring Clean Water Act protections to critical streams and wetlands and postponing those protections indefinitely,” said Scott Kovarovics, Conservation Programs Director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “The amendment offered by Representatives Moran and Dingell provided a balanced path forward for clean water. Unfortunately, too many members of Congress chose not to take that path.”
“Clean water must be a bipartisan national priority,” said Steve Kline, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Agricultural and Private Lands. “Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has made significant progress in restoring and sustaining our nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands. The job is not done – and votes like today’s are a step in the wrong direction.”
Loss of Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands could affect more than drinking water and wildlife habitat – it could hurt the nation’s economy. Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation contribute billions to the economy, but these activities could be sharply curtailed by water pollution and loss of wetlands critical for ducks, trout, and other wildlife.
“American sportsmen greatly appreciate the efforts of Representatives Moran, Dingell, and others as they reminded the House what it seems to have forgotten: You can’t have fishable and swimmable waters if substantial numbers of wetlands and headwater streams go unprotected by the Clean Water Act,” said Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited. “The Senate and the Obama Administration have rejected similar ill-conceived provisions in appropriations bills the past two years, and we urge them to do it again this year.”