'Courting Disaster' Tells Congress to Restore CWA Now

“Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It” details the threats to America’s waters and highlights the urgent need for Congress to act immediately and restore full Clean Water Act protection, according to a recent press release from Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Environment America, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Southern Environmental Law Center.

Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, and subsequent agency policies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers put in place in 2003 and 2007, shattered the fundamental framework of the Clean Water Act. The groups said many important waters – large and small – are being stripped of critical protections against pollution and destruction. These waters not only serve as valuable wildlife habitat, store flood water, return water to aquifers, and filter pollutants, but they also provide some or all of the supply for drinking water systems serving roughly 111 million Americans.

"Courting Disaster" details more than 30 cases that demonstrate -- that without immediate action in Congress -- a generation of clean-up progress may be lost.

Those cases include the following:

  • an administrative agency (EPA or Corps) limited legal protection for a given waterbody, ruling that it is no longer protected by the Clean Water Act;
  • a court made a determination undercutting Clean Water Act protections for a waterbody;
  • as a defense in an enforcement action, an alleged polluter raised the issue of whether the water they discharged into is a protected water;
  • the Corps of Engineers originally determined a water not be protected, forcing EPA to step in to overrule the Corps and protect the water body; and
  • a discharger with a permit argued it could pollute waters without federal safeguards in the future.

“The Clean Water Act was created to broadly protect our nation’s waters, including the many streams, ponds, and wetlands that provide recreation, fishing, wildlife habitat, and our drinking water,” said Dalal Aboulhosn, clean water representative, Sierra Club. “Congress needs to step up now and reaffirm the Clean Water Act as it was originally intended before more of our waters are lost.”

The Clean Water Restoration Act, which was introduced in the Senate a few weeks ago, would restore the Clean Water Act, according to the press release.