Congress Considers Changing U.S. Water Pollution Law
WASHINGTON -- U.S. House Democrats said Tuesday they want to change a major water pollution law to answer a recent Supreme Court decision and make clear the law applies to all of the country's water.
The Clean Water Restoration Act would drop the word "navigable" from the 1972 Clean Water Act, and define waters of the United States as anything from prairie potholes to ocean tides.
Last June, the Supreme Court threw out a ruling against developer John Rapanos who had filled wetlands with sand in order to erect a shopping center.
The court split on which waters are under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Four justices said the law was restricted to protecting navigable waters, such as lakes and rivers, and bodies connected to them, while four others argued the law applied to other waterways.
Justice Anthony Kennedy did not join either side and now lower courts must decide if the law has been violated on a case-by-case basis.
Rep. James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat sponsoring the legislation, told reporters the decision threatened watersheds, which are often creeks or estuaries where water has collected.
Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, helped draft both the original law and the current bill.
"We are simply trying to correct an error that has been made by the Supreme Court," he said. "The history is very clear. It was intended that it would affect all waters of the United States."
Oberstar predicted that the bill would pass. It was sponsored by more than 150 members of the House from both parties and has the support of more than 300 environmental and river restoration groups.