U.S. House blocks protections for 2 million miles of streams

Washington, DC — Two million miles of rivers and streams across the country could remain vulnerable to development and pollution, under a bill that won approval today by the U.S. House of Representatives. The waters affected help provide drinking water to 117 million Americans.

The vote followed several high-profile cases of water contamination this summer, from the toxic algae bloom that contaminated the drinking water for nearly half a million people in Toledo, to one of the largest dead zones on record in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We should be doing everything we can to protect our rivers and streams,” said John Rumpler, Senior Attorney with Environment America. “Yet the polluters and their allies in Congress are doing everything they can to put our waters in jeopardy.”

The bill, HR 5078, would bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from restoring protections of the Clean Water Act to more than half of the nation’s rivers and streams, left in limbo for nearly a decade after a pair of Supreme Court decisions created a loophole in the law.

In March, EPA proposed a rule to close this loophole, again safeguarding under federal law the nation’s smaller headwaters and streams along with 20 million acres of wetlands.

A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of Americans have heralded the EPA move. But agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against the rule.

“Instead of siding with our rivers and the Americans who love to fish, boat and swim in them,” said Rumpler, “today Congress is siding with the polluters.”

The attack blocks the proposed rule and anything that might resemble it, and delays any effort to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act for up to two years. The White House has threatened to veto the measure, whose prospects are less certain in the Senate.

More than 160,000 Americans and hundreds of other stakeholders have already written in favor of the rule, which is open for public comment through the fall.

“People from all walks of life want to see their rivers, lakes, and streams safeguarded,” said Rumpler. “Kudos to the White House for rebuking this irresponsible assault on our waters. We urge the Senate to reject the House’s dangerous proposal.”