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Bush Administration Directs Agencies to Ignore Clean Water Act
Salon
September 14, 2004

Using a back-door route to deregulation, the Bush administration has removed clean water protections for 20 million acres of American wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams, lakes and ponds, according to documents obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act. [1]

The documents, used to produce the report "Reckless Abandon: How the Bush Administration is Exposing America's Waters to Harm," outline the consequences of a 2003 federal policy directive that encourages regulators to routinely avoid enforcing Clean Water Act protections for American rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands unless otherwise directed.

The report was produced by nonprofit environmental groups Earthjustice, the National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club. It can be found online at www.cwn.org.

"For the first time in over 30 years of cleaning up our waters, we're going backwards," said Paul Schwartz, national policy coordinator for Clean Water Action. Schwartz noted that after the Clean Water Act took effect in 1972, the percentage of the nation's waters deemed clean enough for fishing and swimming nearly doubled. But recent state reports now show those numbers declining, he said.

"The water is getting dirtier, and the Bush administration is leading one of the most fundamental attacks on a law that has arguably done more to protect the environment and public health than any other environmental law," Schwartz told BushGreenwatch.

On January 15, 2003, the Bush administration published guidelines in the Federal Register directing field staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop issuing protections for millions of acres of wetlands, streams and other waters unless they first obtained permission from national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The directive further stated that no permission was required to ignore Clean Water Act protections for these waters and that no records would be kept of decisions not to invoke the Clean Water Act.

The directive severely narrowed the types of waterways considered protected under the Clean Water Act to those that were navigable year-round by commercial vessels, a major departure from every previous administration's policies since 1972. [2]

At the same time, the administration announced it would take steps to codify these guidelines through federal rulemaking procedures. It later backed off the rulemaking process in response to a massive public outcry. But the guidelines were left in place and have had the same impact, Schwartz said.

In response, 219 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 senators have signed on to letters to President Bush asking him to rescind the policy directive and restore protections to American waters. A bill has also been introduced in both the House and Senate that would make clear that all waters of the U.S. should fall under the protections of the Clean Water Act. [3]

"The Bush administration's policy is based on the fantasy that if you let polluters dump sewage, oil and other toxic waste into small wetlands and streams, it won't ultimately wind up in our lakes, rivers and coastal waters," said Daniel Rosenberg, an NRDC senior attorney in the group's August 12 press release.

###

SOURCES: [1] "Reckless Abandon: How the Bush Administration is Exposing America's Waters to Harm," CWN, Aug. 12, 2004. [2] Federal Register, Jan. 15, 2003; EarthJustice, NRDC, NWF, Sierra Club press release, Aug. 12, 2004. [3] Clean Water Authority Restoration Act HR 962 and S 473.

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