When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, the need was desperately apparent. Rivers were catching on fire. Pollution choked waterways. Most rivers and streams weren't safe to swim in. For some reason, Rep. Nick Rahall is supporting an effort by the coal industry and other major polluters to turn the page back to those days.
Enforcement of the Clean Water Act has kept billions of pounds of toxic chemicals and other pollutants out of America's waterways.
A bill quietly working its way through Congress, H.B. 2018, the "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011," would undo decades of progress and render the Clean Water Act all but useless.
The bill -- supported by both Rahall and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito -- strikes at two vital provisions of the Clean Water Act. First, it would strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the ability to make states improve deficient water quality standards. The EPA could no longer withdraw approval of state programs, limit financial assistance or object to specific permits because of inadequate water quality standards enforced by the state.
An analysis of the legislation by the EPA says, the bill would prohibit the agency from revising water quality standards without buy-in from the state "even in the face of significant scientific information demonstrating threats to human health or aquatic life."
Second, the bill essentially allows a state to overrule a determination by EPA scientists that a dredge and fill permit could harm municipal water supplies, fishing, wildlife or recreation areas.
This bill would turn the Clean Water Act on its head, giving states the right to allow less stringent protection of the nation's waterways.
Together, these two provisions would lead to a race to the bottom in places like West Virginia where industry holds substantial sway over state regulatory agencies. The entire point of the Clean Water Act is to ensure a nationwide clean water standard because the waters of this nation are a shared resource.