Long-Awaited Guidance Further Jeopardizes Protection of Our Waters

“Congress Must Act to Protect the Nation’s Waters” Washington, DC (June 5, 2007) -- Following a confusing Supreme Court decision last year that threw Clean Water Act protections into disarray, the Army Corps and EPA today offered guidance that only further confuses the scope of the Clean Water Act and confounds the agencies' ability to protect the nation's waters. The guidance, issued after a year of apparent infighting in the Administration, sheds little light on the issue of whether and when the Clean Water Act protects about 60 percent of the nation's stream miles and at least 20 percent of its remaining wetlands from pollution and destruction. “This guidance places an unacceptable number of waters at risk of losing protection and does next to nothing to alleviate the confusion over what waters are federally protected,” says Jan Goldman-Carter, Wetlands Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “Like the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos, the guidance leaves protection of many of our waters in doubt. It doesn’t fix a thing and makes the status of protections even worse for streams and wetlands.” “This guidance adds unnecessary and unintended hurdles for agencies and citizens trying to protect our waters. In particular, the guidance inexcusably retreats from protecting many important headwater streams and wetlands,” says Goldman-Carter. “The guidance, and the year it took for it to be issued, make plain that this Administration is not up to the task of protecting the nation’s waters. Congress must step in and make sure all wetlands, streams, lakes, rivers and other important waters are protected,” she added. The Supreme Court last year combined two cases, Carabell v. United States and United States v. Rapanos which were on appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Both addressed whether the Clean Water Act protects wetlands adjacent to small tributaries that flow into larger water bodies. The Court’s reasoning was split, with a plurality ruling that only relatively permanent bodies of water such as major lakes and rivers and directly abutting wetlands are protected by the Act. Justice Kennedy, in a concurring opinion, found that the Act protected waters with a “significant nexus” to other waters and that ecological factors such as flood control could create such a nexus. Justice Kennedy stressed that the many ecological functions wetlands and other waters perform can be cumulatively considered on a regional basis. The guidance fails to reflect this key component of Justice Kennedy’s opinion, leaving countless waters at risk. “The only thing this guidance makes clear is the needed solution: Congress must pass the Clean Water Restoration Act which provides clear safeguards for all the Nation’s waters that were protected prior to confusing Supreme Court decisions,” concluded Jim Murphy, an attorney for National Wildlife Federation. “America’s sporting community will fight for this legislation to protect waters for wildlife and for our children’s future. If the Administration is also serious about protecting waters, it will support this bill.” The National Wildlife Federation supports the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, which reaffirms the traditional scope and clear purpose of the Clean Water Act. “The waters that are now more vulnerable to being destroyed and polluted are the lifeblood of our country’s diverse water system,” says Murphy. “Healthy streams, wetlands and lakes mean healthy people and abundant populations of wildlife. Weakening protections for these waters puts us all at risk.” The waters at risk of losing protection help replenish water supplies, filter out pollution, work as buffers against storms and floods, and provide habitat for America’s fish, birds and other wildlife. “Global warming will mean increasingly intense storms, droughts and habitat loss,” added Goldman-Carter. “Having healthy wetlands, rivers and streams will be essential in helping people and wildlife survive the threats of global warming.” The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, introduced for consideration by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, does not expand Clean Water Act protections, but simply restores the regulatory status quo as it existed before the Supreme Court issued its decisions. The National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization protecting wildlife for our children’s future. www.nwf.org. Contact: Jan Goldman-Carter, 202 797-6894 Jim Murphy, 802 229-0650 x 341