April 27, 2011
Obama Administration Announces New Clean Water Protection Policy
Washington, DC: Today the Obama administration announced a new proposal to secure clean water and protect American’s drinking water sources. The guidance on the scope of Clean Water Act protections comes after years of confusion stemming from misguided policies initiated by the previous administration that put millions of acres of wetlands and a majority of the nation’s stream miles at risk of pollution and destruction.
In response Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement.
“The proposed clean water protection policy will go a long way to helping make clean water a reality for families across the country. The move to clarify protections for small streams and wetlands will be especially beneficial, as these important waters provide drinking water to 117 million Americans.
Clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act to ensure protections for the nation’s waters has been a Sierra Club priority for almost a decade. After years of losing waters because of policies favoring polluters and developers, we’re pleased to see that many of the small streams and wetlands that provide drinking water, flood control, filtration, and habitat for fish and wildlife will again enjoy clear protections.
The guidelines proposed today would conform federal policy to scientific reality: it's impossible to safeguard rivers and lakes downstream without protecting the small, headwater streams that feed them.
This policy will help ensure that everyone can enjoy clean water. We look forward to working with the administration on a rulemaking to help strengthen and solidify this policy. Ultimately however, Congress needs to restore the scope of the Clean Water Act as it existed before the court decisions to ensure the historically broad protections of our waters. Until Congress acts, some waters that provide important benefits to people and wildlife are likely to remain unprotected.”
Flawed interpretations of Supreme Court decisions resulted in 2003 and 2008 policies denying Clean Water Act protections for intermittent and seasonal streams and wetlands. These policies require federal agencies to examine each stretch of a headwater stream individually, and prove that each one in isolation affects the health of downstream rivers, lakes and coastal waters. They ignore language in Justice Kennedy’s decision and the reality that the small streams and wetlands within a watershed collectively determine the health of downstream navigable waters. As a result, since 2003, federal policy has not clearly protected these waters, and some have been polluted with oil spills and waste discharges, while others have been filled in to allow for new development.