One of AFFTA’s priority policy issues is protecting and enhancing the Clean Water Act. We recently joined with the Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited on a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives expressing opposition to H.R. 3409, The “Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012.”
Here is the letter:
Conservation and Sportsmen’s and Outdoor Industry Organizations Oppose H.R. 3409, The “Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012”
On behalf of outdoor industry, sportsmen’s, and conservation groups nationwide, we are writing in strong opposition to H.R. 3409. In particular, we write to oppose the bill’s Title V which is identical to last year’s H.R. 2018. Title V would adversely affect waterways nationwide, and would lessen protective standards provided by the Clean Water Act for 38 years. This bill undermines Clean Water Act protections not only for coal-related water pollution, but for pollution from all sources. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has held no legislative hearings on these bill provisions. Given their potential water quality and aquatic habitat ramifications, these Title V bill provisions deserve far more scrutiny.
The Clean Water Act’s goal, to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” was written at a time when lakes and rivers served as wastewater treatment plants and as dumping grounds for toxic, flammable chemicals. Like its twin H.R. 2018, H.R. 3409’s Title V undermines the Clean Water Act’s goal, and by extension, threatens to return our waters to the deplorable conditions of the past. This bill proposes sweeping changes to the Clean Water Act that would undercut the progress the Act has made in restoring our waters over the last four decades. The bill purports to strengthen “cooperative federalism” by giving the states more control over EPA’s Clean Water Act oversight. In fact, the bill undermines the federal-state partnership on which the Clean Water Act is based. We would welcome committee
consideration of an appropriate increased role for the states. However, as written this bill clearly is intended to weaken implementation of the Clean Water Act.
As written, H.R. 3409 attacks two critical components of the Clean Water Act:
1. Enforcement of water quality standards
H.R. 3409 undermines the use and enforcement of water quality standards, the Clean Water Act’s engines of water quality improvement and wildlife habitat protection. Water quality standards translate the broad goals of the Clean Water Act into waterbody-specific objectives. These standards then drive the development of water quality-based pollution discharge permits. The standards are also used to determine which waters need protection and which need to be restored. H.R. 3409 would limit the federal government’s ability to compel states to implement or improve their water quality standards to deal with pollution and habitat destroying activities. The bill would also block EPA from objecting to individual permits that fail to comply with water quality
standards. For waterbodies that span multiple states, like the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay, federal oversight is needed to ensure one state’s weaker standards do not undermine progress in reducing pollution across the waterbody. H.R. 3409 will lead to a hodgepodge of water quality standards. Some states will adopt stronger standards, others weaker. The waters of states with stronger standards may be polluted by water flowing from adjacent states with weaker standards. This scenario, which will contribute to an overall reduction of U.S. water quality, is what the current Clean Water Act was enacted
2. Protection of waters from discharges of dredged and fill material
Fundamental to protecting the nation’s waters is EPA’s oversight of dredge and fill permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. H.R. 3409 effectively guts this important oversight by rendering almost meaningless its EPA veto authority and its permit review. The bill also effectively guts fish and wildlife agency review as well. EPA’s “404c veto” authority has been used only 13 times in the past 38 years, eight of which were under Republican Administrations. While used sparingly, this authority is a critical safeguard against the most destructive and wasteful proposals. These are projects that have “unacceptable adverse effect[s] on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas…, wildlife or recreational areas.” Many of them would have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. EPA’s “veto” has saved great rivers such as the South Platte (CO), Ware Creek (VA), and the Big River (RI) from wasteful, fish habitat destroying projects. It was also critical to stopping the Yazoo Pumps project which was supported by the State of Mississippi, but nonetheless would have destroyed more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi Delta. The House should take a more careful look at the bill to examine how H.R. 3409 will affect our waters.
The House needs to take a deeper look at HR 3409.
The Clean Water Act has led to immense progress nationwide on cleaning up our waters, restoring fish habitat, protecting drinking water sources, reducing wetland loss, and developing water-based recreational economies. Our waters sustain the activities of about 40 million anglers who generate an estimated $125 billion in annual economic activity, and about 2.3 million people generate an estimated $2.3 billion per year hunting ducks and other migratory birds. While states appropriately have a lead role in implementing some clean water protections, the law does not function effectively without a federal backstop that ensures its goals are met.
We oppose HR 3409 and we urge the House to do a more thorough job of assessing the impacts of HR 3409 on the nation’s waters before floor consideration.
For a copy of the letter, email Ben Bulis, Ben[at]AFFTA[dot]com.