Dingell, Oberstar Introduce Legislation to Protect Wetlands
Washington, D.C. - Congressman John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) today introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to restore protection to America's wetlands, which are now in jeopardy due to a recent Supreme Court decision and Bush administration regulatory actions. The legislation, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, will restore the original intent of the 1972 Clean Water Act and reestablish protections for "isolated" wetlands throughout the United States.
"The Supreme Court got it wrong, and now the Bush administration is using this narrow ruling to attempt to rollback 30 years of Clean Water Act progress," said Dingell. "The legislative history of the Clean Water Act clearly and unambiguously states that the statute applies to all the waters of the United States. I know this because I personally included it in the Congressional Record in 1972. The bill we are introducing today reaffirms the original intent of the Act."
In January 2001, a divided Supreme Court ruled that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers do not have jurisdiction over certain "isolated" wetlands. The Bush Administration has used the Court decision to propose even broader changes to long-established federal wetlands policy that would further weaken Clean Water Act protections by giving developers an unfettered ability to fill, bulldoze and destroy wetlands and waterways.
The ruling and the changes under consideration by the Bush administration are of particular concern to sportsmen. Wildlife biologists estimate that without Clean Water Act protection, much of the prime breeding habitat for waterfowl in North America could be lost, leading to devastating impacts on waterfowl populations. This could mean drastically shortened hunting seasons - or no season at all.
"In the prairie pothole regions of North and South Dakota, there are millions of acres of temporary wetlands less than an acre in size. These ephemeral wetlands are now at risk of being lost forever," Dingell said. "To duck hunters these wetlands are absolutely critical because this is where most of the ducks are produced. If action is not taken, the effect on waterfowl populations would be catastrophic. How can the Bush administration argue these waters are unworthy of Clean Water Act protection?"
The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act includes a set of findings that explain the factual basis for Congress to assert its constitutional authority over waters and wetlands. It also reaffirms the original intent of the Congress by creating a statutory definition of "waters of the United States" based on longstanding definitions in the Army Corps of Engineers regulations. Finally, the legislation deletes the term "navigable" from the Act to reinforce that Congress' original concern in 1972 Act related to pollution rather than navigability.
"Before the Clean Water Act was adopted, the rivers of this country were treated as little more than open sewers," Dingell added. "Industry and government were free to pollute with impunity, and our nation's waterways suffered tremendously. The Clean Water Act changed all this. Now some 30 years later, America's waters are safer and the rate of wetlands loss has declined by 75 percent. Why does Mr. Bush want to roll back this remarkable record of achievement?"
Representatives Dingell and Oberstar unveiled the legislation at a news conference with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator James Jeffords (I-VT), National Wildlife Federation CEO Mark Van Putten and Larry Larson, Executive Director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers
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