House Panel Listens to Concerns over Clean Water Regulation

Article excerpt

After two days of hearings before a House panel, opponents and proponents of a controversial proposed remedy to clarify federal regulatory jurisdiction over the nation's waters remained far apart in their interpretation of the best legislative fix for problems created by two recent Supreme Court decisions.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held two hearings on the intent of the Clean Water Act and regulation of wetlands and the most appropriate way to protect the nation's water.

Witnesses representing state and local government, environmentalists and academics participated in two days of lively debate on H.R. 2421, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) with 165 cosponsors. H.R. 2421 seeks to clarify the definition of wetlands in the Clean Water Act and the extent of water bodies that should be regulated following two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that limited federal authority to regulate them.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer expressed support for H.R. 2421 and urged the committee to use common sense in protecting the nation's waters "All upstream tributaries ... along with wetlands are an integral part of our nation's watersheds and thus affect the health of all waters in the United States."

He called on the federal government "to be a protector" of water without regulating too broadly.

Councilman Larry Forester of Signal Hill, Calif., warned that H.R. 2421 would have unintended consequences and noted the experience of Southern California's "impractical, inflexible, unworkable and costly approach" due to the imposition of Clean Water Act standards on "clearly non-navigable waters."

Testifying on behalf of the Coalition for Practical Regulation, an organization representing of 43 of the 86 cities in Los Angeles County, Forester highlighted current problems in Southern California that have resulted from local regulatory bodies' interpretation of the Clean Water Act to include all "waters of the United States" and warned that these problems would spread to cities nationwide if H.R. 2421 were enacted.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, passed by Congress in 1948, funded state and local water treatment systems and required the establishment of state water quality standards. With states controlling pollution discharge at the local level and the Federal government having control over interstate and coastal waters, little consistency of laws and regulations existed nationwide. Amendments to the law, passed in 1972 and commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act established a national system for controlling pollution and protecting our nation's waters

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases, in 2001 and 2006, put an end to this practice of broadly interpreting the Act, and called into question Federal authority and jurisdiction over certain waters, including wetlands. …