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Water Birds


By Austin R. Ramsey

Sept. 18, 2019 | American University – Congressional Reporting

Democrats on Capitol Hill shot back at President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday, less than a week after his Environmental Protection Agency announced sweeping changes to the law that regulates pollution in U.S. waterways.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., issued a scathing report card on Trump’s handling of that law — the Clean Water Act — outlining efforts by the administration to strip protections on streams and wetlands, gut funding for sewage treatment grant programs and block anti-pollution rules.

“You people have the gall to do all this stuff administratively to dismantle more than half a century of progress?” DeFazio asked Office of Water Assistant Secretary Dave Ross Wednesday at a subcommittee hearing on water resources and the environment. “This is unbelievable.”

After several federal courts ruled it too broad, the administration on Thursday rolled back a 2015 rule that expanded federal authority into roughly 60% of small streams and more than 100 million acres of U.S. wetlands.

Ross, joined by a scant GOP minority Wednesday, said his office is applying the “rule of law” by loosening the clean water safeguards.

“It’s time for us to do our job and provide a clearer definition of the waters in the United States that will withstand judicial scrutiny,” he said.

In a tense exchange with DeFazio, Ross called into question the chairman’s report, saying he had used imprecise data and maps to make conflated assumptions about what effect eliminating the rule will have.

At present, Ross said, his agency simply does not have that kind of information available.

“You don’t have any data?” DeFazio fired back, rhetorically. “Maybe, before you propose anything, you should go out and get some damn data.”

Regulated industries and states-rights advocates applauded the Trump administration’s announcement last week, as it will revert the Clean Water Act to language that had been in place since 1987. According to Ross, the historic law was “complicated but familiar,” and now his office has been tasked with adopting an industry-friendly alternative.

By including minor stream beds that rarely hold any water or Western floodplains that remain dry for most of the year, the former President Barack Obama-era definition of “Waters of the United States” essentially stole regulating authority from states and made it harder for farmers and investors to grow, Republicans on the subcommittee said Wednesday.

“It got to the point that the general public was feeling like that the EPA wanted to control the drops of water running off my cap when it rained,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.

In Wyoming, for example, state flood control rules are considered more stringent than federal regulations, according to the state’s farm bureau federation Vice President Ken Hamilton, who was reached by phone after the hearing.

That’s why Hamilton said he doesn’t view the administration’s tactics as “deregulation.” Rather, he said, they are an opportunity.

“We look at it as restoring back the balance between the federal government and the states,” he said. “It’s a balance that needs to be in place, because it works; it simply works.”


House Democrats have pledged to go even further in their rebuke of the EPA roll-back. DeFazio said he plans to continue to hold oversight hearings until party leadership is prepared to introduce legislation implementing Obama’s clean water rule definitions as law.

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