Thursday, July 7, 2011


H.R. 2018, passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 22, 2011, without a single legislative hearing, would severely restrict the federal government’s ability to enforce key elements of the Clean Water Act, ensure the safety of downstream states’ water supplies, and provide for consistency among state water pollution control programs. States would also lose the ability to protect their waters from other states’ pollution. The bill would upend the national public health and water quality protections that have been in place for nearly 40 years and replace them with a patchwork of state standards. In short, this bill would threaten the progress the nation has made since the Clean Water Act gave the federal government the primary role in cleaning up the nation’s waters.

The bill fundamentally changes two central elements of the Clean Water Act: water quality standards and permits for dredged and fill material.

Water quality standards

Under current law, states set water quality standards and pollution limits for their waters based on minimum federal standards. These standards determine limits on pollution discharge permits and identify waterbodies in need of cleanup plans. States review water quality standards every three years and can change them based on new scientific information or changes in local conditions to meet the Clean Water Act’s goals. Some states establish more protective, effective water quality standards than other states.

In part, the strong federal role that Congress created when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 was intended to overcome a patchwork of state water quality standards and create a level economic playing field among the states. The federal role was needed to ensure that states did not allow weak water quality standards at the expense of their downstream neighbors. By severely limiting the federal government’s ability to oversee state water quality standards and discharge permits, H.R 2018 would return us to an era of inconsistent and ineffective state standards. The bill would:

· Thwart states from protecting their drinking water sources and other waters from pollution discharged from upstream or neighboring states.

· Prevent the EPA, without state concurrence, from taking action to revise outdated state water quality standards.

· Prevent the EPA from objecting to a state-issued pollution discharge permit that it believes does not comply with water quality standards.

· Forbid the EPA from superseding a state-issued water quality certification, which applies to federal licenses or permits.

· Proscribe the EPA from limiting federal financial assistance for a state program that is not complying with water quality standards.

Permits for discharging dredged or fill material into water

The Clean Water Act requires permits to discharged dredged or fill material into waters, including wetlands. Although the Corps of Engineers administers the permitting program, the EPA oversees it to ensure the protection of water quality. The law gives the EPA the authority to veto projects that it determines would have “unacceptable adverse effects on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas…” The agency reserves this safeguard only for the most destructive projects and has used this it only 13 times in almost 40 years. Eight of the 13 vetoes have occurred under Republican administrations. H.R. 2018 effectively eliminates the EPA’s most important oversight authorities over this program. The bill would:

· Prevent the EPA from prohibiting Corps-issued permits to fill waters without state concurrence.

In January, 2010, the EPA vetoed a Corps-issued permit to fill more than six miles of Appalachian streams with 110 million cubic yards of mining waste. The permit would have created one of the largest mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia. West Virginia supported the permit.


For more information, contact Ed Hopkins at