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Great Lakes Article:

Take Action Now: Ask Your Members of Congress to Co-Sponsor the "Clean Water Protection Act" H.R. 4683 to Prevent Waters From Being Buried By Waste

May 30,2002

 

On May 3, the Bush administration adopted a final rule that is one of the most destructive amendments to Clean Water Act regulations in decades - a change to key clean water rules that, for the first time in 25 years, would allow the US Army Corps of Engineers to permit industries to bury wetlands, streams, rivers, and shorelines with waste materials.

Just five days later, a bipartisan group of US Representatives, led by Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Christopher Shays (R-CT), introduced federal legislation to block this destructive rule change by proposing to add to the Clean Water Act a statutory definition of "fill material" that would expressly forbid the Corps of Engineers from permitting the discharge of waste materials as "fill" to bury and destroy the nation's waters. On the same day, May 8, a federal district judge in West Virginia ruled that the Bush rule change violates the Clean Water Act and enjoined the Corps from issuing any new 404 permits for fills made out of waste materials. The Bush administration and the coal companies are challenging this decision.

Please contact your US House members to ask them to cosponsor this important legislation to protect the nation's waters.

Go to http://congress.nw.dc.us/cwn to send an email asking your member to support H.R. 4683.

THE RULE CHANGE

On May 3, the Bush administration reversed an important and longstanding Clean Water Act regulation that will, for the first time in decades, allow the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to issue permits authorizing polluters to dispose of mining waste, construction waste, and other types of industrial waste directly in our nation's waterways.

The rule centers on the definition of what constitutes "fill material" under the Clean Water Act. Sec. 404 of the Act authorizes the Corps to issue permits for the discharge of "dredged or fill material" into waterways. Since 1977, the Corps' regulatory definition of "fill material" expressly prohibited the use of waste as "fill." Therefore, until now, the Corps was legally barred from issuing Clean Water Act permits to industries that wanted to discharge pollutants composed of waste as "fill" into waters of the United States. The Bush administration action deleted this important waste exclusion from the Corp's definition.

The rule change is an attempt to legalize the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, where the tops of mountains are literally blown apart and the millions of tons of waste generated are dumped into nearby streams. In Appalachia, this form of mining has already buried and destroyed more than 1,000 miles of streams.

Unfortunately, the devastating environmental effects of this rule change will not end with mountaintop mining. Removing the waste exclusion will now allow polluters to seek permits to dump hardrock mineral mining waste, construction and demolition waste, plastics and other forms of industrial waste in waters across the nation.

THE PALLONE-SHAYS BILL

The Pallone-Shays bill (H.R. 4683) would simply insert a definition of "fill material" into the Clean Water Act itself. (Currently, the Act does not contain a definition - the definition of fill has always been in the regulations.) The proposed definition in the bill states that "fill material" means any pollutant which replaces portions of the waters of the United States with dry land or which changes the bottom elevation of a water body for any purpose. The term does not include any pollutant discharged into the water primarily to dispose of waste." This definition contains the "waste exclusion" language that was in the Corps' own rules for many years.

Judge Haden's decision correctly found that the Bush agencies' change of the rules is beyond their legal authority, and his decision is strongly grounded in the letter, history and spirit of the Clean Water Act. However, the Bush administration and coal companies will continue to try to overturn his decision. Allowing wastes - including coal mining wastes, hardrock mining tailings, construction and demolition debris, and other industrial wastes - to be discharged into the nation's waters as "fill" is a goal of the Bush administration that they are likely to pursue in court for some time.

Passage of the Pallone-Shays bill would settle the matter by creating a definition right in the Act itself.

Co-sponsorship of the Pallone-Shays bill is a way for Members of Congress to demonstrate that they are on the side of Clean Water.

Again, please contact your US House members to ask them to cosponsor

H.R. 4683 to protect the nation's waters. (To read the bill, go to thomas.loc.gov and search on the bill number.)

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