For more than 35 years, the United States has recognized tough laws that protect the quality of rivers, lakes and coastal areas. The Clean Water Act is credited with turning open sewers into flowing rivers again, and beginning the long process of improving the health of the nation's water, for wildlife and for drinking water.
But in 2005, the Supreme Court struck down federal jurisdiction over small, isolated wetlands that aren't clearly connected to navigable water, like deep rivers with a channel.
The decision left smaller streams, ponds and wetlands vulnerable to filling, draining and other development. Bird protection groups and hunters were among the most vocal critics of the ruling, but the effects could be wide-reaching, with 59% of the nation's streams now unprotected by federal law.
The Supreme Court also said that Congress ought to step in and clarify its intent. Now, it is working to do just that with the Clean Water Restoration Act, which guarantees that all rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands and other waters remain protected from pollution and destruction.
The bill gets a hearing today by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, just days after a Senate committee heard testimony about the proposal.
"This is the most important clean water legislation in the last 35 years," said Joan Mulhern, Senior Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice. "Congress has made the right move to propose the Clean Water Restoration Act. More than 110 million Americans get their drinking water from the same streams and headwaters that could lose their federal Clean Water Act protection. Every day, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA are making decisions that remove federal protection for these waters. Without this bill, polluting streams, filling wetlands, and burying waters will be common practice."
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.