6 May 2008

Clean Water Restoration Act

Yesterday, I mentioned the Clean Water Restoration Act, which (according to the congressional summary):
Amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) to replace the term "navigable waters," throughout the Act, with the term "waters of the United States," defined to mean all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas, and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds, and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters, or activities affecting them, are subject to the legislative power of Congress under the Constitution.

Declares that nothing in such Act shall be construed as affecting the authority of the Secretary of the Army or the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act related to discharges: (1) composed entirely of agricultural return flows; (2) of stormwater runoff from oil, gas, and mining operations; or (3) of dredged or fill materials resulting from normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities or from activities with respect to which a state has an approved program, or for the purposes of maintenance of currently serviceable structures or drainage ditches, construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds, irrigation ditches, or farm, forest, or temporary roads for moving mining equipment, or construction of temporary sedimentation basins on construction sites.
The CWRA has been introduced several times. Its importance lies with the meaning of "navigable" -- the EPA has apparently given guidance to the effect that they have no jurisdiction/concern about pollution in non-navigable waters. (Note the serious exceptions in the second paragraph.)

The CWRA seems a good idea, at least for its attempt at consistency. I still prefer a common-law version of the clean water act where anyone harmed by upstream (or point source) pollution could sue for redress. That method -- by decentralizing monitoring, complaint and enforcement -- seems more effective. It's nice when the EPA "takes care of us" -- until they don't.

Bottom Line: Clean water comes with costs. Those who bear the costs try to bribe the government to reduce them, and governments that care more about money than citizens take the bribes in exchange for reducing water quality. Citizens need to keep a sharp eye out if they want government of/by/for the People.

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