By Jon Devine, Senior Attorney – Natural Resources Defense Council
This post was originally published on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Blog, Switchboard.
Did you drink water today? If so, you’ll want to read this post, because Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing legislation that threatens our drinking water.
Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a bill that would kill the Clean Water Rule, an initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to reinstate protections for small, seasonal, and rain-dependent streams, as well as wetlands and other waters around the country. Pollution protections for these waterways used to exist, but have been eroded by industry-led litigation and policies the prior administration adopted in the wake of those court cases. (For the gory details about the bill considered yesterday, please check out my earlier post.)
As a refresher, if the proposed Clean Water Rule were finalized, it would restore guaranteed protections against pollution and destruction for tributaries, including headwater feeder streams and ones that don’t flow year round. The rule would also safeguard waters near those tributaries and other ones that could be shown to have important downstream impacts. Despite some truly bizarre things that have been said about the rule, it really is modest in scope. It is also based on unassailable science.
The Clean Water Rule would protect these waters for many reasons, none more important than the fact that they are critical to millions of Americans’ safe and reliable drinking water supply. Headwater, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, like those the rule would protect, feed into the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans; you can see if you’re one of them by checking out EPA’s interactive map. In addition, wetlands help replenish groundwater supplies, from which people often draw drinking water.
Because the water bodies that are at the heart of the Clean Water Rule help provide our drinking water, it is only natural that members of Congress would be concerned about a bill to prevent the rule’s safeguards for drinking water supplies from being adopted. So, during the House committee’s consideration of the bill yesterday, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from Washington, D.C. offered an amendment that sought to ensure the new bill wouldn’t prevent the protection of drinking water. Her amendment was very straightforward; it just said: “Nothing in this Act affects the authority of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Secretary of the Army to protect the quality of surface water that is available for public water supplies.”
But committee Republicans voted down Ms. Norton’s amendment (vote results here), precisely because if the rule were allowed to protect drinking water, it would be too protective for the liking of the opponents of the rule and the polluting industries fighting it. In fact, one of the bill’s sponsors said that the drinking water amendment would make the bill “irrelevant.”
Exactly. And that’s what you need to know about the Clean Water Rule – if your member of Congress or Senator is for it, he/she supports safe and reliable drinking water. If your representatives oppose the rule, they are making it harder to protect sources of drinking water. It’s that simple.