In late December 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a final rule outlining which waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act. The modest rule defines the term “waters of the United States” — sometimes referred to as “WOTUS” — in a way consistent with the agencies’ longstanding approach, dating back to President George W. Bush’s administration. This Clean Water Restoration Rule ensures that critical waters – from small streams to rivers to wetlands- are protected from unregulated pollution and destruction when they have important downstream effects on water quality.
On March 9, the House of Representatives voted to overturn the new rule using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is a legislative tool that allows Congress to invalidate a recently-finalized agency rule and prevent any future administration from issuing a rule that is “substantially the same.” The CRA requires only a majority vote to pass in both chambers, and has expedited procedures that allow it to skip committee consideration and amendments in the Senate. The CRA is an incredibly blunt and dangerous tool with the potential to eliminate significant environmental and public health protections.
This Clean Water Restoration Rule is a commonsense measure and this attack is just the latest attempt by polluters and their allies in Congress to undermine the Clean Water Act.
See below for responses to the vote from Clean Water for All members and partners:
Executive Director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN stated “We know that too many communities, especially Indigenous communities, communities of color, and low wealth communities, still lack clean water. Our government officials must continue to do more to protect clean water as vital public health safeguards. We must prioritize people over polluters and work to ensure everyone, no matter their race, zip code, or income, has access to clean water.”
Amigos Bravos Deputy Director Rachel Conn issued the following statement: “New Mexico has been in the crosshairs of Dirty Water actions by the federal government for far too long. Water here in New Mexico is too precious to risk unregulated dumping of pollution. It is time that we as a state step up to protect our own waters. All three New Mexico members of the house voted against the appeal and New Mexico Representative Melanie Stansbury spoke passionately on the floor against the measure, “In New Mexico water is life, water is sacred, water is culture, water is sacred to everything that we do and everything that we are,” said Representative Stansbury, adding “For years our state and our communities have ridden the roller coaster of regulatory rollbacks on the Clean Water Act.”
Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Julián González issued the following statement: “Everyone deserves clean water, and the Clean Water Restoration Rule would ensure that access by restoring commonsense water protections that have been in place for decades. It also thoroughly explained the scientific importance of these protections, rebuking the anti-science and pro-polluter approach from the Trump administration’s disastrous dirty water rule. The courts have already ruled that Trump’s dirty water rule was unlawful, and the scientific community is in total agreement about the undeniable importance of protecting hydrologically connected waters and wetlands. The fact that Republicans in Congress and even some Democrats are siding with polluting industries is baffling and unconscionable. Today’s vote by Members of Congress to remove these protections is a boon to developers and corporate polluters and puts industry profits over our right to clean drinking water, to healthy water-reliant economies, and to sustainable water supply. We urge Senators to reject this misguided effort to overturn clean water protections.”
John Rumpler, senior director of Environment America Clean Water campaigns, said: “Americans cherish clean water. From a favorite stream for fishing to the water flowing from our kitchen sinks, we all depend on clean water to survive and thrive. Yet 227 representatives just voted against restoring Clean Water Act protections to many of America’s remaining wetlands, and to streams that millions of Americans rely on for drinking and recreation. Their dirty water resolution comes even as a new scientific study shows the importance of wetlands in protecting our rivers, lakes and bays from pollution. Small streams help provide drinking water to millions of Americans. Wetlands filter out pollutants, provide vital wildlife habitat and protect our communities from flooding in a climate-changed world. With residents of northeast Ohio alarmed about what’s in their water after the toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Congress should be doing everything they can to protect clean water. We will not rest until all of America’s waterways get the protection they deserve.”
Scott Strand, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said: “We are disappointed in yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Clean Water Restoration Rule adopted by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All the agencies did was essentially codify the rules and practices that everyone has operated under since the mid-1980’s, but, because of the way the Congressional Review Act works, this resolution would have the effect of preventing EPA and the Corps from doing what everyone claims to want—adopting clear rules to define the scope of federal authority. If this were to become law, it would be a serious setback for the rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands in the Midwest.”
Lawyers for Good Government’s (“L4GG’s”) Director of Climate Change and Environmental Justice, Jillian Blanchard, issued the following statement: “We recognize that water is an essential resource to all, and it is often the most overburdened communities and ecosystems that are most impacted by water pollution. The CRA is a dangerous tool that should not be used to invalidate the Clean Water Restoration Rule, which essentially reinstates crucial wetland and waters protections that were eviscerated under the Trump Administration. Clean water is crucial to our ecosystems, our water supply, and our very way of life. Voting to remove the Restoration Rule using the CRA will take a sledgehammer to these protections and prevent the EPA from addressing the issue in the future. This vote is critical and threatens our right to clean drinking water and healthy waterways.”
The League of Conservation Voters issued the following statement from Deputy Legislative Director Madeleine Foote: “Today’s vote puts big polluter profits ahead of the health of our families and communities. This dangerous legislation would severely weaken the Clean Water Act by revoking important protections for critical waters and allowing unregulated pollution and destruction of everything from small streams to rivers to wetlands. Since the Act’s passage over 50 years ago, polluters and their allies in Congress have tried to roll back the important safeguards it provides and deny our basic human right of access to clean water for their own gain. But polling continues to show that voters want Congress to do more, not less, to protect the waters our families, communities, and economy depend on. We urge the Senate to reject this damaging attack on our waterways and commit to ensuring that everyone, no matter their race, zip code, or income, has access to clean, safe water.”
“This is a dangerous effort to undermine the Clean Water Act itself,” said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation. “The vote seeks to invalidate a common sense rule that simply codifies long-standing protections that are essential to drinking water quality, flood protection, community health, ecosystems, and businesses. The resolution is a blunt tool that directly threatens people, communities, and wildlife. The Senate must reject this reckless attempt to undo half a century of progress on clean water.”
Sierra Club Clean Water Director Beth Roach issued the following statement: “The majority of House Republicans have made it clear once and for all that they do not care about the American people having access to clean, safe, and reliable water. The Biden Administration’s WOTUS rule restores critical protections for waters across the country, but corporate polluters and the fossil fuel industry have spent years flooding the pockets of their allies in Congress with this exact goal in mind. At the end of the day, we cannot drink oil or gas or money, yet Republicans in Congress continue to put one of our most critical natural resources at risk. Enough is enough. Where someone lives, how much money they make, or the color of their skin should never determine if they have access to clean, safe water. The Sierra Club is committed to continuing to work with our allies to ensure that every person in this country has clean water, and we call on all Senators to vote no on the CRA.”
This page will be updated as more statements are released.