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Great Lakes Article:

ACTION ALERT: One of Worst Attacks on Clean Water Act In History

From U.S. PIRG

The White House is attempting one of the most significant attacks on the Clean Water Act in its history, proposing to change a key definition of "fill material" that would be broadened to allow mining waste to be legally dumped into streams and rivers without regard to environmental impact. While a judge recently ruled that the move was a violation of the Clean Water Act, the Bush administration continues to press forward. Congress is now stepping in, acting to clarify that the Act never intended for waste material to be dumped into rivers and streams. Please take a moment and follow the link below to go to a web page where you can ask your representative to cosponsor legislation that would clarify and strengthen the Clean Water Act.;=ES


On May 3, the Bush administration reversed an important and longstanding Clean Water Act regulation that would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits authorizing polluters to dispose of mining waste, construction waste, and other types of industrial waste by dumping them directly in our nation's waterways. The rule centers on the definition of what constitutes "fill material" under the Clean Water Act. Section 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 Corps' 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 (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 of fill - 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. A judge in West Virginia recently ruled that the agencies' rule change 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 and strengthen the Clean Water Act by creating a definition of fill right in the Act itself.

Please take a moment and follow the link below to go to a web page where you can ask your representative to cosponsor this legislation.;=ES

Sincerely, Gene Karpinski U.S. PIRG Executive Director

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