The spending plan House Republicans put forward to carry the government through the end of the year includes language that would effectively halt U.S. EPA's effort to restore Clean Water Act protections rolled back during the George W. Bush administration.
Environmental advocates fumed today over language they found tucked deep into the GOP House leadership's proposed continuing resolution, a spending plan that would fund the government through Sept. 30. The language would block EPA from spending any money "to implement, administer, or enforce a change" to any regulations or interpretations that define what waters, wetlands, lakes, ponds or streams are covered under the Clean Water Act.
Uncertainty created by two recent Supreme Court decisions over what waterways are covered, coupled with the narrow definition put forth in 2007 by the Bush administration, has hamstrung EPA's clean water enforcement efforts ever since, forcing the agency to delay or drop hundreds of pollution cases and investigations.
In December, after repeated legislative attempts to amend the Clean Water Act failed on Capitol Hill, EPA opted to take administrative action. The agency sent a proposed reinterpretation of the law to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review that is expected to assert broader jurisdiction over the nation's waters and wetlands, clearing the regulatory logjam and forcing polluters to obtain permits for dumping and filling areas in question.
The new policy is expected to be released in the coming weeks and take effect later this year.
But the GOP-proposed spending plan would effectively pull the plug on that effort, withholding the money needed to enforce the new policy.
"It's a huge threat," said Piper Crowell, clean water advocate for Environment America. "Lobbyists for developers and corporate agribusiness have blocked this effort for years."
The GOP plan also incensed environmentalists for the broad cuts proposed to Army Corps of Engineers programs aimed at restoring coastal Louisiana, the Florida Everglades, the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay and other programs.
Josh Saks, of the National Wildlife Federation, called the plan "devastating."
"The House contingent that released this budget has turned their back on clean water," Saks said.
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