Conservation groups hope support of administration helps move CWA
Washington – Conservation groups were quick to praise the Obama
administration’s support for the proposed Clean Water Restoration
Act last month, a federal bill that is said to restore waters
protections awarded by the 1972 Clean Water Act, but recently
weakened by Supreme Court decisions.
In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., several members of
the administration urge the chair of the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works to pass the bill, authored by Sen.
Russ Feingold, D-Wis. The letter says the bill could clarify
federal jurisdiction following court decisions in 2001 and
“… a clear statement of Congressional intent is needed to
provide a foundation for steady and predictable implementation of
the Clean Water Act in the years to come,” the letter states as it
outlines principles for legislation that attempts to clarify the
term “waters of the United States.”
Not only do conservation groups say current interpretation
leaves thousands of wetlands unprotected, but federal agencies say
the permitting process concerning work done in wetlands is
inconsistent, at best.
Still, there are groups that fear expanded government control of
wetlands and the possibility of more lawsuits regarding work in
“waters of the United States,” the language included in the bill.
Some, including the National Center for Public Policy Research, say
the CWRA could mean new restrictions for hunters and anglers.
But groups like Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt
Conservation Partnership are firmly behind the legislation, a
similar version of which died in Congress just a couple years
“A whole host of ecological features, which provide many
important societal benefits like clean drinking water, healthy fish
and wildlife populations, flood and erosion control, and
recreational opportunities, remains at risk unless Congress acts,”
said Steve Moyer, vice president of government affairs for Trout
Unlimited, a member of the TRCP.
Ducks Unlimited’s director of public policy, Bart James, said of
the correspondence: “As the No. 1 issue important to sportsmen,
this is a very positive development.”
DU says about 20 million acres of “geographically isolated”
wetlands are at risk of pollution and destruction under current
guidance policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Just a few states have wetlands protections equivalent to the
Clean Water Act, prior to the court cases – Rapanos v United States
in 2006, and Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United
States Army Corps of Engineers in 2001.
“Federal agencies have faced significant challenges implementing
these recent decisions,” the letter to Sen. Boxer said. “In
addition, U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have taken different
positions in interpreting the Supreme Court decisions, further
The letter said these inconsistencies “can be time-consuming and
expensive. Delayed and unpredictable decisions are frustrating and
costly to persons seeking approval of projects related to these
The letter urged committee members to consider four general
€ Broadly protect the nation’s waters;
€ Make the definition of covered waters predictable and
€ Promote consistency between the Clean Water Act and
agricultural wetlands programs; and
€ Recognize long-standing practices. For example, “a carefully
crafted statutory exemption for ‘prior converted cropland’ would be
useful to both farmers and federal agencies,” the letter
The letter was signed by Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on
Environmental Quality; Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA; Tom
Vilsack, secretary of the Department of Agriculture; Ken Salazar,
secretary of the Department of the Interior; and Terrence “Rock”
Salt, acting assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works).
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is considered a key member of the
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, regarding the
It was unknown if the Democrat is a supporter of the bill.
Klobuchar’s office hadn’t returned Wisconsin Outdoor News calls
requesting comment as of press time.
Jan Goldman-Carter, wetlands and water resources counsel at the
National Wildlife Federation, called action by Congress on the bill
in 2009 “critical.”
There currently are 24 co-sponsors of Feingold’s bill.