House looks to roll back clean water protections

The House of Representatives chamber, above, will see two votes this week intending to undermine protections for clean water. (© iStock)

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is kicking off the New Year by voting on two bills attacking Clean Water Act protections for our nation’s waters. Both bills House leadership is bringing to the floor would stop agency rulemakings aimed at better protecting our nation’s waters and communities from toxic pollution.

The first is SJ Res 22, a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act regarding the administration’s clean water rule. The resolution passed the Senate in November and drew a veto threat from the President. There are not enough votes in the Senate or House to overturn a Presidential veto, making this vote about political posturing, rather than tackling substantive work.

If approved, the resolution would not only block the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward with their final Clean Water Rule, signed last year, it would also prevent the agencies from doing anything substantially similar in the future.  Essentially, it would block the agencies from ever doing anything to clarify which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act, leaving a continued state of confusion. This long-overdue rule has been more than a decade in the making, drew more than 800,000 supportive comments, and would clarify protections for 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands currently at risk for pollution. Further, it would help protect the waters that contribute to drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

The second bill is H.R.1644, the STREAM Act, aimed at gutting the proposed Stream Protection Rule, which would hold polluters accountable for mining pollution. 

Communities throughout the Appalachian region and country suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape resulting from the damage and destruction wreaked on thousands of miles of streams by coal mining. The Department of Interior has proposed a new rule that would improve the current regulations, is necessary to protect waters in mining regions, and would ensure that communities are protected from mining waste. However, the House wants to roll back this rule before it is even finalized.

On Monday, the Obama administration issued a similar veto threat if this bill makes it to his desk.

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