New ‘clean water' bill introduced in Congress
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 5:00 PM EDT
By Tim Spielman Associate Editor, Mn Outdoor News
http://www.outdoornews.com/articles/200 ... /news3.txt
Washington - A Minnesota Congressman is leading an effort to restore protection of waters he and conservation groups believe were stripped by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar recently introduced the Clean Water Restoration Act, a bill he said was 'designed to restore the authority of the Clean Water Act so it has the same effect it had prior to the Supreme Court rulings.'
Following the more recent decision, officials in Minnesota said the state's own Wetland Conservation Act provided such wetland protection that the ruling would do little to endanger the state's waters.
In a press statement, Oberstar said Minnesota law protects state wetlands, but that 'CWRA's passage will eliminate a complex new jurisdictional application that has been added to the federal permitting process because of the two Supreme Court rulings.'
Oberstar said the CWRA replaces the term 'navigable waters of the United States' with 'waters of the United States.'
'Prior to 2001, the scope of the CWRA was commonly recognized to include inter- and intra-state waters,' Oberstar said. 'By focusing on the phrase ‘navigable waters' in its (Supreme Court's) decisions, the Supreme Court muddied the jurisdictional understanding of the CWRA. As a result, there has been great uncertainty for federal, state and local governments, agencies, courts, communities, and landowners regarding where federal authority begins and ends under the CWRA.'
Officials from Ducks Unlimited say the bill, which has been introduced in the past, is vital.
' Š We strongly support this Congressional action to restore wetland protections that were in place since 1972,' said Dr. James Hulbert, DU president. 'Fewer wetlands means fewer ducks, which means less waterfowl hunting. Fewer wetlands also means fewer other wildlife species, increased flooding, and diminished water quality.'
Simply put, at issue in recent Supreme Court cases has been what constitutes a wetland - for example, if it's permanent or temporary, or if it's connected to navigable waters.
Minnesota's WCA was approved by the state Legislature in 1991 and went into effect a year later. According to the Board of Water and Soil Resources, which administers the act (it's enforced by the DNR), the act has been amended 'significantly' three times since then, 'mostly to accommodate the varying needs of the different geographic areas of Minnesota.'
Wisconsin is another state that reacted to the 2001 Supreme Court decision with additional wetland protection measures.
'In 2001 (following the Supreme Court's SWANCC - Solid Waste Agency of Cook County, Ill.) decision, Wisconsin passed Act 6, which extended protection to isolated wetlands,' said Laura England, outreach programs director for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
In that state, she said, threats to wetlands come in the form of illegal filling of wetlands, and issues regarding permitting.
Erin O'Brien, wetlands policy and conservation specialist for the WWA, said such federal legislation would aid the state of Wisconsin and Minnesota - and others with strong wetland protection.
'There's still value in that legislation for the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, even if it doesn't change the level of protection,' O'Brien said. 'With differences between state and federal law, there's a lot of confusion at the regulatory level. More consistency Š certainly would be better.'
Co-sponsors of Oberstar's bill include Michigan Reps. John Dingell and Vernon Ehlers. The bill has 150 co-sponsors and is endorsed by 300 organizations.
Dingell said in its more recent ruling - Rapanos et us., et. al. versus the United States (2006) - the Supreme Court 'continued to bungle the clear intent of Congress.'
He said the legislation would 'correct the course the Supreme Court set us on and prevent any further mess made of a wonderful law.' Dingell was one of the authors of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
In a press statement, Dingell said the legislation would eliminate confusion caused by the SWANCC and Rapanos cases, understanding of clean water jurisdiction would be re-established, administrative permit processing times would take place more quickly, developers and communities would have regulatory certainty, and the nation would be able to better 'restore, protect, and maintain its water-related environment.'