The Clean Water Act prohibits dumping fill material into "navigable waters" without a permit. It describes "navigable waters" as "waters of the United States," which Army Corps regulations define broadly to include the territorial seas, lakes, rivers and wetlands - even mud flats and prairie potholes.
For nearly 30 years, courts went along. But in 2001, the Supreme Court exempted "isolated" wetlands that don't cross state lines and have no hydrological connection to navigable waters.
Now Congress is getting involved. Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn., and John Dingell, D-Mich., recently introduced a bill declaring that the Clean Water Act allows the government to protect any waters from pollution. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., plans a Senate version.
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