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E-M:/ House Members Ask Bush to Keep Water Act By JOHN HEILPRIN .c The Associated Pre

House Members Ask Bush to Keep Water Act

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Half the 435-member House, including 26 Republicans, wrote President Bush on Tuesday urging him to scrap his administration's efforts to change Clean Water Act regulations that could reduce the scope of waterways protected nationwide.

Bush's environmental adviser, Jim Connaughton, told The Associated Press no decision has been made yet about whether to go ahead with new rules that are just ``a very small part'' of the president's strategy for protecting wetlands in 30 federal programs.

In the letter, 218 House members, including all but 14 of 205 Democrats, said Bush's preliminary rule-making efforts ``represent attempts to remove federal protection from waters - including many streams, wetlands and natural ponds - that have been covered by the Clean Water Act for decades.''

The Environmental Protection Agency began a new rule-making process in January that could result in redefining what bodies of water should be protected under the Clean Water Act. It also issued guidelines for federal wetlands regulators to use in interpreting a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that cast doubt on protections for wetlands unconnected to larger waters.

EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said the agency hasn't decided what to do yet since it was still reviewing 130,000 public comments about its intent to propose a new rule.

Those efforts could lead to more water pollution, wetlands losses and state financial burdens, according to Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Jim Saxton, R-N.J., Jim Leach, R-Iowa, and Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who gathered the signatures with help from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation.

``Sometimes we lose sight of the basics, and clean water is an absolute basic,'' Leach said.

Dingell said the administration went beyond the court ruling and ``we do not want a rollback.''

Environmentalists said those actions could result in a loss of federal protection for millions of acres of swamps and bogs considered ``isolated'' from larger water bodies.

But Connaughton, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, that the ruling affects less than 35,000 acres. ``What we're talking about is a very small subset of wetlands between isolated and non-isolated,'' he said.

Bush remains committed to the concept of ``no net loss'' of wetlands, Connaughton said. The administration adopted new guidelines last year that emphasize the quality of new wetlands being created more than maintaining total wetlands acreage, which was the goal of ``no net loss'' of wetlands that former President Bush set in 1989.

Joining the Democrats in signing the letter were more than a tenth of the House's 229 Republicans - all of whom were from Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Midwest states - and Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the House's lone independent.

In October, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., led 25 other senators in writing a similar letter to Bush. Feingold said Tuesday EPA's rule-making could ``leave our nation's most vulnerable streams and wetlands unprotected by the Clean Water Act.''

On the Net:

EPA Office of Water: http://www.epa.gov/OW/index.html

National Wildlife Federation: http://www.nwf.org/news

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/ceq

11/25/03 19:27 EST

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