|3:46 PM EDT||
Jim Moran, D-VA 8th
Mr. MORAN. Only 3 percent of the water on this planet is freshwater, but that's the water that we depend upon for drinking, for agriculture, and for much of our fishing and wildlife habitat.
If my amendment to strike section 109 of this bill is not accepted, critical headwater and wetlands, which ensure the quality and the quantity of our freshwater supply, will be lost--lost to the dumping of sewage, to toxic mining materials, and to unregulated in-fill for residential, commercial and industrial development.
Over the past decade, Mr. Chairman, two Supreme Court rulings have caused confusion about which waters and wetlands should receive protection under the Clean Water Act. As a result, important fish, wildlife, flood protection, and filtering waters now lack clear protection under the law, and businesses and regulators face uncertainty and delay as to which waters should fall under Federal protection.
The Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency developed draft guidance this spring to clearly show which waters should be protected, and this guidance does provide clear and predictable guidelines in accordance with the Court's direction, but this bill prohibits that guidance from moving forward this year and every subsequent year. The Supreme Court did remove some waters from Federal protection, but it left a great deal of confusion over which waters and wetlands should be protected.
The EPA and the Corps of Engineers are using an open, public process to develop the guidance. Published in May and open for comment through July, the public, businesses and States have over 3 months to let the Federal agency know their views. All comments will be considered and made publicly available.
It is important to understand what the guidance does not do. This new guidance doesn't change any existing agricultural exemptions. All clean water exemptions for normal agricultural, forestry and ranching practices continue to apply. The guidance also clearly describes waters that are not regulated under the act, including isolated wetlands, artificially irrigated areas, stock watering ponds, construction-related ponds, swimming pools, and washes and gullies.
Failing to update the guidance, which is what this bill would do unless my amendment passes, is not only bad for the environment, but it's also bad for business.
American businesses need to know when the Federal Government has authority and when it doesn't. Without updated guidance, developers have little certainty regarding permits. This uncertainty could subject them to civil and criminal penalties, and surely will cost them extra money.
Some also claim that Federal regulation is unnecessary because States will protect the same waters under their authority. But State authority to regulate waters of the United States derives directly from Federal law. When Federal law is unclear, State authority based on that law is also unclear. States are still required to implement the law, but they need clarity to be consistent and to avoid lawsuits. Some States may adequately protect clean waters on their own, but not all do. The Corps and
the EPA must be able to protect water quality irrespective of whether individual States do.
Sixteen different sportsmen's groups oppose the prohibition in this group, as [Page: H4812]
do over 100 conservation groups. When wetlands are destroyed and streams are polluted, sportsmen are often the first to be directly impacted. The economic benefits of hunting and fishing contribute more than $65 billion to the economy, breathing life into rural communities and supporting millions of jobs across the country.
But these benefits are in jeopardy with this bill. Since 2001, safeguards for headwater streams and critical wetlands have steadily eroded. Wetlands and tributaries that provide clean water for iconic systems like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes that recharge aquifers, help retain floodwaters, and provide important fish and wildlife habitat are now endangered. These economic and environmental benefits will be lost without updated guidance and rules.
If this bill language stands, some critical waters will be subject to sewage dumping, to mining contaminants, and to industrial pollution. Some will be filled in for development. Bear in mind, much of the fresh water we depend upon is under the ground, but contiguous to rivers and streams that our fiscal health and the health of our economy is dependent upon.
That's why I urge a vote for my amendment to strike section 109.
The CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.
The Clerk will read.