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H.R. 2018 - Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act

Instead of acting to create jobs and strengthen our economy, on July 13th House Republicans passed H.R. 2018 to limit federal oversight of state clean water plans -- undermining two fundamental elements of the Clean Water Act: water quality standards and protection of waters from dredging and filling for large-scale mining, development, and water resource projects. 

These changes would undermine EPA's ability to assure state water quality standards protect clean water, public health and incorporate advances in scientific understanding without state approval - shifting some regulatory power of water, wetlands and mountaintop mining from the Environmental Protection Agency to the states.

This is no time to endanger our rivers, streams and lakes that sustain our health and economy.  They provide the clean drinking water we need.  And local economies and millions of jobs in tourism, outdoor recreation, and commercial fisheries depend on clean water and healthy fish and wildlife habitat. 

These changes would give upstream states power to weaken their pollution protections, and weaken the power of downstream states to protect their water supply, their communities, and their economy. 

Specifically the bill:

  • Limits EPA 's ability to ensure that states effectively implement or make necessary improvements to their water quality standards to deal with modern pollution challenges, as it did in restoring Lake Erie.  The bill also blocks EPA from objecting to individual permits that fail to comply with water quality standards.
  • Revokes EPA's authority over approved-State programs, creating the potential for “toothless” State programs that look good, but fail to take key actions to prevent the discharge of pollutants.
  • Blocks EPA's veto authority to stop dredge and fill projects that have “unacceptable adverse effect[s] on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas…, wildlife or recreational areas.”  This “veto” authority has been used only thirteen times in the past 38 years, and is a critical safeguard against the most polluting activities.

The bill is opposed by sports/hunting groups and environmental groups - including Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Clean Water Action, Clean Water Network, Environment America, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Fund.  The Administration strongly opposes the bill, and senior advisors would recommend a veto.

Regarding water quality standards, the bill would:

  • Restrict EPA's ability to revise an existing water quality standard or promulgate a new one, unless the state concurs.
  • Prohibit EPA from mediating interstate water quality concerns related to State water quality certifications granted by a state.
  • Prohibit EPA from withdrawing approval of a state water quality permitting program (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System), or from limiting federal financial assistance for the state program even when the State's program is inadequate to protect water quality.
  • Block the EPA from objecting to individual permits that fail to comply with water quality standards.

Regarding permits for dredging or fill material, the bill would:

  • Restrict EPA's ability to veto a Army Corps of Engineers' permitting decision to allow discharge dredge or fill material into the water (404 permit), unless the state concurs.
  • Restrict EPA's oversight over civil works projects carried out by the Corps of Engineers, such as the construction of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps project that was vetoed by the Bush administration EPA in 2008.
  • Allow a state to assume and administer only parts of the 404 permit program; under current law, states are required to assume the entire program or none of it.
  • Limit the EPA, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to 30 days to submit environmental impact comments to the Corps on a proposed section 404 permit.