Why H.B. 2018 is a bad idea

Written by: Dan Radmacher
July 14, 2011

This post is based on a commentary that originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette. H.B. 2018 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 13.

When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, the need was desperately apparent. Rivers were catching on fire. Pollution choked waterways. Most rivers and streams weren’t safe to swim in. For some reason, Rep. Nick Rahall is supporting an effort by the coal industry and other major polluters to turn the page back to those days.

Enforcement of the Clean Water Act has kept billions of pounds of toxic chemicals and other pollutants out of America’s waterways.

A bill quietly working its way through Congress, H.B. 2018, the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011,” would undo decades of progress and render the Clean Water Act all but useless.

The bill – supported by both Rahall and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito – strikes at two vital provisions of the Clean Water Act. First, it would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the ability to make states improve deficient water quality standards. The EPA could no longer withdraw approval of state programs, limit financial assistance or object to specific permits because of inadequate water quality standards enforced by the state.

As an analysis of the legislation by the EPA says, the bill would prohibit the agency from revising water quality standards without buy-in from the state “even in the face of significant scientific information demonstrating threats to human health or aquatic life.”

Second, the bill essentially allows a state to overrule a determination by EPA scientists that a dredge and fill permit could harm municipal water supplies, fishing, wildlife or recreation areas.

This bill would turn the Clean Water Act on its head, giving states the right to allow less stringent protection of the nation’s waterways.

Together, these two provisions would lead to a race to the bottom in places like West Virginia where industry holds substantial sway over state regulatory agencies. The entire point of the Clean Water Act is to ensure a nationwide clean water standard because the waters of this nation are a shared resource.

One state should not be allowed to poison the waters of another state. “Water doesn’t know state boundaries,” Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said during the House Committee House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure discussion of the bill.

The bill seems aimed primarily at curbing EPA’s regulation of mountaintop removal mining, but its effects would be felt far beyond Appalachia.

This bill would result in the most substantial weakening of the Clean Water Act since its passage – yet there hasn’t been a single congressional hearing to discuss the ramifications.

Rahall’s support of this legislation is especially disappointing. In the biography on his official congressional website, Rahall touts the fact that he “has received national recognition for his strong dedication to protecting and preserving our nation’s environment,” including the Wilderness Society’s Ansel Adams Award.

But his environmental instincts have always been tempered by his allegiance to the coal industry and other big campaign donors. In the 2010 election, his main donors were Patriot Coal, Peabody Energy and CSX Corp., which depends on rail shipments of coal for a substantial portion of its business.

Rahall’s support of this bill – which would have consequences far beyond West Virginia – should forever bury any notion of him as a protector of the environment.

The bill passed the House on July 13. Call or write your senators today and tell them to leave the Clean Water Act alone and refuse to pass this unwise legislation.

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