Opening Statement for Senator Jim Jeffords
Hearing Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act
October 8, 2002, 9:30 a.m.
I am very pleased to be here today to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This statute was one of the first environmental laws that our nation adopted, and it has remained a cornerstone of our efforts to protect and preserve our nation's waters.
I am particularly honored to welcome two former members of this body and of this Committee who are joining us to celebrate this event, Senator Stafford of Vermont and Senator Mitchell of Maine. Each of them played a key role in the passage of the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act.
Senator Stafford, who is joining us by videoconference from Vermont, was the chairman of this Committee when the amendments were crafted.
Senator Mitchell of Maine was the ranking member of the subcommittee on Environmental Protection during the development of these amendments, and was the floor manager for one of the two historic votes to pass these amendments and override President Reagan's veto.
We are truly fortunate that these distinguished members are joining us today to speak about their views on the progress we have made to cleanup our nation' s waters. Thank you both for being here.
Sadly, the true steward of the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act - Senator John Chafee -- is not with us today. Senator Chafee was one of my closest friends in the Senate. We ate lunch together every Wednesday for about ten years. His contribution to our nation cannot be overstated. Senator Chafee's leadership on environmental issues as a member and as Chairman of this Committee was unparalleled through the last two decades. His fingerprints can be found on virtually every major piece of environmental legislation that became law during these two decades.
It was his leadership that brought the bipartisan 1987 Clean Water amendments through the Senate, through the conference with the House, past a Presidential veto, and into law. Because of his efforts, our children and grandchildren cannot imagine a world where excess pollution can cause a river to burn. We are honored to have Senator Lincoln Chafee here as a member of this committee, continuing his father's important work.
To understand the significance of the Clean Water Act, one has to recall the state of our nation's waterways in the early 1970s. The fact is, our nation was faced with a water pollution crisis. The most vivid example was the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which became so polluted with chemicals and industrial wastes that it burst into flames. Toxic materials were routinely dumped into pristine water bodies by industrial polluters. It was standard practice in municipalities to have underground pipes deliver raw sewage from homes directly into rivers and streams without any intervening treatment.
Americans began to ask - is this the best we can do? I can attest to the fact that Vermonters answered with a vehement "no". They demanded action to solve our environmental problems. In 1970, I was the state attorney general of Vermont. My office worked to create Vermont Act 252, which enacted the toughest water pollution laws in the country at the time. I had the honor of testifying before this Committee during Senator Muskie's chairmanship during the first phases of the debate on the Clean Water Act. Some of the concepts in Act 252 are today part of federal water pollution laws.
Congress also answered "no" to the question - is this the best we can do? Led by champions like Senators Muskie and Baker, they came together on a bi-partisan basis to override President Nixon's veto of the Clean Water Act. Originally enacted in 1948, the 1972 Clean Water Act completely revised the existing statute and created the clean water program that we know today.
The Act consisted of two major parts - regulations on industries and cities designed to reach a goal of zero discharge of pollutants and the authorization of federal financial assistance for wastewater treatment. We have made progress.
Virtually every community served by a publicly owned treatment works is served by a plant that uses secondary treatment. This progress was facilitated by the Federal assistance provided for municipal wastewater treatment plant construction.
Despite progress on these and other issues, it was clear that without action on other problems such as toxics and nonpoint source pollution, we would not be able to meet our clean water goals.
In 1987, Americans again asked - is this the best we can do? And again Congress said "no". Champions like Senator Chafee, Senator Stafford, Senator Mitchell, and Senator Bentsen came together as a bi-partisan coalition to override President Reagan's veto of the 1987 amendments and enacted the last major reform to this country's clean water program.
Many of the key pieces of the 1987 amendments continue to resonate in our clean water debate today - in particular, nonpoint source pollution, stormwater, and funding levels. We have made some progress on these issues, building on the strength of the 1987 amendments.
However, much remains to be done. Almost half of our nation's waters are not safe for fishing, swimming, boating, drinking water, or other needs. EPA estimates that nonpoint sources of pollution are responsible for half of our water quality problems. Just last week, Administrator Whitman released the Agency's "gap analysis" which identified an enormous gap between current funding levels and infrastructure needs for publicly owned treatment works. In Vermont, there are two dozen streams impaired by stormwater runoff. These issues represent a real and daily threat to public health and to the wildlife that depend on clean water to sustain life.
On this, the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, America again asks - is this the best we can do? The answer is "no." Our nation still faces many important challenges. Today, our actions overseas dominate the debates in Congress and overshadow equally pressing problems here at home. Water pollution continues to be a "clear and present" problem. It is real and it deserves our attention. We must take action to respond to America's call for cleaner water. We must squarely address nonpoint source pollution. We must have a strong TMDL program to move states more rapidly toward cleaning up our impaired waterways. It is imperative that the TMDL rulemaking being undertaken by the Administration is a "second step" in the program rather than a step backward.
We must invest in our nation's water infrastructure. In an effort spearheaded by Senator Graham of Florida, this Committee took action this year to pass the Water Investment Act. This bill authorizes takes a first step toward closing the gap in investment for water infrastructure. I have worked with Senators Smith, Crapo, and Graham and the Appropriations Committee to increase funding for the SRF. This year, we succeeded with the first increase in years. I want to thank Senators Bond and Mikulski for their support.
I believe that we must continue to move forward on controlling stormwater and combined sewer overflows. A major element in our ability to combat these problems is funding. In the Water Investment Act, we included a separate authority for EPA to provide assistance to communities in controlling combined sewer overflows. In September I joined my colleagues on this Committee in strongly supporting an amendment to the Clean Water Act proposed by Senator Chafee to ensure that smaller communities covered by the phase II stormwater regulations taking effect in March will be able to continue to use federal funds to solve stormwater problems.
It is clear that if we do not take action to address these issues, progress will stall. As America asks us on the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act - is this the best we can do - we must answer "no" as our colleagues did in 1972 and 1987.
I believe that we are up to the challenge.