STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHN H. CHAFEE
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CLEAN AIR, WETLANDS, PRIVATE PROPERTY, AND NUCLEAR SAFETY
Oversight hearing on Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

June 26, 1997

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to participating in this, the first hearing of the 105th Congress on Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. I would like to thank all of the witnesses that will appear before the subcommittee this morning.

Today's hearing is important, as it will give us a better understanding of some very contentious issues surrounding the scope and jurisdiction of our federal wetlands program.

During the 104th Congress, this Subcommittee and the full Committee held a number of hearings on wetlands reform. These hearings demonstrated some of the difficulties experienced by Section 404 permit applicants, ranging from delays in the processing of permit applications to the rigid and inconsistent application of Section 404 standards.

Although I agree that Section 404 is in need of reform, any reform must ensure that the key protections of Section 404 are not undermined. Despite the widespread disagreement over contentious issues like the Tulloch rule and Nationwide Permit 26, there is one thing on which we can all agree. Wetlands, and the functions they serve and benefits they provide, are critical. These functions include: water purification, flood control, recharging of groundwater aquifers, and waterfowl and wildlife habitat, to name a few.

Another factor that we cannot ignore is that more than half the wetlands that existed in the lower 48 States during colonial times already have been substantially degraded or lost altogether. Section 404 has helped to improve dramatically the integrity and vitality of the nation's waters.

I look forward to working with Subcommittee Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Members Baucus and Graham, and others to address the difficulties of the wetlands regulatory program in a manner that maintains the important protections of Section 404. I thank the Chairman."