Last week, Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) introduced new legislation into the House of Representatives that would fix the Clean Water Act after it was damaged by two Supreme Court rulings.

The Supreme Court rulings, which were issued in 2001 and 2006, impair the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the Clean Water Act on wetlands, streams, and ponds that are not part of a major “navigable” waterway.

“These rulings ignore everything we have learned about water pollution and wetland conservation,” the Congressman said. “You have to control pollution at its source. If you wait until it hits a major waterway, it is too late to deal with the problem effectively.”

The aim is to restore the broad authority of the original Clean Water Act passed in 1972. “There were no limits on the number of streams, lakes, or shorelines to be protected,” the Congressman said of the original version. “It just said ‘waters of the United States.'”

To do this, the bill would delete the term “navigable” from the Clean Water Act, and would use the definition of “waters of the United States” that closely follows the definition used successfully by the EPA before the 2001 ruling.

“Simply put, if it was not regulated before 2001, it will not be regulated with the enactment of this legislation,” he said.

The new legislation would also help stop the draining of wetlands across the country.  “You only have to look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding on the Mississippi River in the mid 1990s to see how wetlands protect us, holding back flood waters,” said Oberstar.  “Wetlands also filter ground water and allow it to recharge aquifers.  The Ogallala Aquifer provides water to eight states from Nebraska to Texas, but many of the wetlands that filter and recharge it have lost their protection due to these Supreme Court rulings.” 

According to Oberstar, the legislation will not create onerous or new rules; it will simply reaffirm the original intent of Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.