You know the big mud puddle that forms on your back 40 every time it rains? The Environmental Protection Agency might want to come inspect it. At least, that’s the concern of groups that oppose a law that would rewrite the 35-year-old Clean Water Act.
BY JOSEPH GUINTO
PUBLISHED JUNE 2007
Currently the act gives the federal government regulatory authority over “navigable” interstate waterways. It’s intended to limit pollution discharges into major U.S. rivers and lakes.
But the Clean Water Act’s scope could get a lot broader. A bill backed by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota) would slice the word “navigable” out of the act. The bill’s backers say the change is crucial. For one thing, they argue that the Clean Water Act’s powers have been diminished in recent years by court rulings and other acts of Congress. They also say the word “navigable” unfairly limits the government’s powers to keep major waterways clean because non-navigable waters-think ponds and streams too small for boating traffic-may feed into navigable waters.
That’s certainly true. Non-navigable waterways come into some form of contact with navigable waters all over the country. But how the final, rewritten Clean Water Act would read could make the difference between the feds regulating major non-navigable waters and, well, that troubling mud puddle.
Rob Robertson, vice president of governmental relations for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, is one of those worried about the puddles. “This would move the Clean Water Act beyond protecting wetlands and waterways by creating legislation that would regulate nearly every wet area in the nation, from ditches to gutters and possibly groundwater.”
Oberstar says his Clean Water Authority Restoration Act is simply intended to restore the Clean Water Act’s original intent-to give regulatory agencies the power to keep interstate waterways clean.