Statement of Senator (ret.) Robert Stafford
Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act
October 8, 2002
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. We have come a long way since 1972. It is almost impossible for me to believe that there was a time in Vermont when stories about “dead” rivers and streams were commonplace, when rivers turned the color of the dye used by woolen mills, and when untreated human sewage flowed directly into our waters. It is the Clean Water Act that has made that scenario almost impossible to believe.
The passage of the Clean Water Act in 1987 was the culmination of one of the greatest bi-partisan efforts to enact legislation to protect our nation’s environment during my tenure as Chairman of this Committee. Over the course of four years – 1982 to 1986 – we held hearings, negotiated the finer points of this legislation, and compromised with each other to produce the last significant reform to the Clean Water program. It survived two Presidential vetoes. The result is a piece of legislation that remains a critical element of our nation’s framework of environmental protection.
The man who deserves the most credit for the passage of this legislation is Senator John Chafee. It was Senator Chafee who presided over our subcommittee hearings on this issue. It was Senator Chafee who led the conference committee to produce a package that passed both the House and Senate unanimously at one point. His tireless work and dedication to this issue should not be forgotten. I was proud to serve with him on this Committee. We are all lucky that he was here to lead the way to clean water. It is very special to have Senator Lincoln Chafee here as a member of this Committee, continuing his father’s legacy of environmental protection.
The 1987 amendments took several main steps to address water pollution. Funding was the main point of debate in 1987. We reached a compromise in that year to phase-out federal funding for the construction grants program and to create a new financing mechanism called the state revolving fund, or SRF. At the time, we thought that it was a modest down payment on the investment we were asking the states, cities, and municipalities to make over the next decade.
It turns out that the Federal investment in the SRF has not ended, and the funding needs for wastewater treatment facilities have grown. I am aware that the Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report citing a “gap” of $270 billion in funds available for clean water needs. This is a huge gap that deserves the attention of this Committee and this Congress. I understand, Mr. Chairman, that you and Senator Graham of Florida led this Committee’s efforts to pass S. 1961, the Water Investment Act. I commend your efforts, and I urge the full Senate to take action to provide additional financial support for clean water needs.
In my comments upon final passage of H.R. 1, the Water Quality Act of 1987, I highlighted the portions of the bill dealing with non-point source pollution. This was one of the key gaps in the 1972 law that we sought to fill in 1987. We authorized a new program to develop best management practices to control nonpoint sources of pollution that often prevent the attainment of the fishable, swimmable goal for water quality. Since that time, the Congress has provided close to $1.8 billion to combat nonpoint source pollution. Yet, this remains a major challenge for the future of the Clean Water Act. I understand that EPA estimates that nonpoint source pollution is responsible for close to 50 percent of our current water quality problems. It must be addressed if we are to take the next step in cleaning our waters.
As this Committee looks to the future, I would ask you to recall the days of multi-colored waterways and the seemingly insurmountable challenge that the 92nd Congress faced when enacting the Clean Water Act. They took that challenge and met it. The results speak for themselves. In 1987, we decided that we had an opportunity to move another step toward clean waters. Today, you have a similar opportunity. Our waters are cleaner that they have been in years, but we have lingering problems that prevent us from reaching the “fishable, swimmable” goal. You have the opportunity to address these lingering issues. I urge you to take action by re-authorizing Federal assistance for clean water and by taking another step forward on nonpoint source pollution.