Statement of Senator Jon S. Corzine
EPW Subcommittee on Clean Air Wetlands and Climate Change
June 6, 2002
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding today’s hearing on the issue of the Army Corps’ change to their definition of “fill” material. This may seem like a minor technical change. But as we will hear today, there are much broader and potentially damaging implications that such a change may have.
I want to start by noting that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The Act’s objective is clear: “to protect and restore the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” The Clean Water Act has resulted in many successes since 1972. Thirty years ago, only 30-40% of the nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters were estimated safe for swimming and fishing. Today that percentage has risen to over 60%. In my home state of New Jersey—which has over 120 miles of ocean coastline, 6,450 miles of rivers, and 24,000 acres of public lakes—considerable progress has been made as well. All coastal beaches from Sandy Hook South to Cape May are fully swimmable, 73% of the monitored estuary waters and 76% of the monitored ocean waters fully support shellfish harvesting—this wasn’t the case 30 or even 20 years ago.
These are good achievements, but there is still a lot of work to be done in New Jersey and across the country. So in this year of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, I think we ought to be taking steps to strengthen the Act to address remaining water quality problems. We certainly shouldn’t be weakening the Act, or making changes to regulations that will create new water quality problems. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Administration is doing with this change to the wetlands program.
It is my understanding that the new “fill” definition is such that any material that has the effect of replacing portions of waters with dry land or changing the bottom elevation of a water body is permissible for use as “fill” material. As my colleagues have pointed out, the effect of this change is that many types of wastes—including hardrock mining waste, coal mining waste, and construction and demolition debris—will be allowed to be dumped in our Nation’s waterways.
Needless to say, Mr. Chairman, this could be devastating to streams, lakes and wetlands across the country. And it goes against the heart of the Clean Water Act, whose purpose is to clean up the nation’s waterways, not to dump waste into them. So I’m extremely dismayed by the Administration’s actions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing the testimony.