CWRA–Good for People, Farms and Small Businesses

silt fence at construction site

silt fence at construction site

The House Small Business Committee heard complaints from associations representing farmers and small business groups who do not want the Clean Water Restoration Act to be approved. They want to maintain the 2006 interpretation that limits the Clean Water Act to huge bodies of water that are navigable. The problem with this definition is that it leaves 60 percent of this nation’s rivers and nearly a quarter of our wetlands unprotected.

The opponents argued before the panel that CWRA would require excessive permitting regulations and include bodies of water as small as rain puddles. “Frankly, the ramifications of this bill are alarming,” Lyle Schellenberg, president of the National Utility Contractors Association said, according to ENS. “Enactment would immediately subject to federal CWA permitting requirements ditches, water and sewer pipes, streets, gutters, man-made ponds, storm water basins, even puddles of rainwater.”

 But the history of the CWA points to a glaring problem with such arguments – it was working for the last 30 years – our rivers stopped burning, toxic pollutants were kept out of our drinking water, it became safe to swim and drink from Lake Erie again. CWRA would merely return protection to the exact same waters that were protected under CWA before the 2006 Supreme Court decision that confused matters. Put another way -CWRA does not expand the scope of the federal government – just returns it to what it once was a few years ago by protecting the same waters that were historically covered by the act.

Some of the waterways that are currently unprotected include headwaters, streams and watersheds that provide drinking water to 110 million Americans. The results of a Congressional investigation into the Clean Water Act enforcement program since the 2006 Supreme Court decision showed that the Bush Administration dropped or stalled 500 clean water enforcement cases. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee uncovered new internal documents (read hidden or buried documents) proving the violations were not pursued.

“One of the legacies of the Bush Administration is its failure to protect the safety and health of the nation’s waters,” said Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) told ENS. “Our investigation reveals that the clean water program has been decimated as hundreds of enforcement cases have been dropped, downgraded, delayed, or never brought in the first place. We need to work with the new Administration to restore the effectiveness and integrity to this vital program.” And that would mean approving CWRA.

confined animal feeding

confined animal feeding

While we understand that the farms and small businesses are merely trying to eek out a living, they seemed to have success doing so before 2006 – so what’s the big deal about restoring the former scope of protections? Congress isn’t trying to expand the law to cover more waters, just return it to the ones they intended to protect in the 1970’s. That would mean returning to the law that Republican President Richard Nixon signed. And here is the kicker – if it passes we can all enjoy clean drinking water again.

The US Senate is poised to vote on CWRA. In the meantime, Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) indicated that her House committee may hold another hearing on the issue in order to hear from panelists representing environmental interests – sounds like a good idea to us.

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