(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today the Committee considers one of America's bedrock and most successful environmental statutes: The Clean Water Act.
We will hear testimony on the Clean Water Restoration Act, a bill introduced by Senator Feingold that would restore the protections of the Clean Water Act that have been jeopardized by some activist members of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Enacted just over 35 years ago, the Clean Water Act has a critically important purpose: "To restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters."
The protections of the Clean Water Act have helped restore thousands of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. It has helped protect the water supply for our families and provide essential habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife. But we still have a long way to go.
While all waters were not evaluated, according to the EPA's most recent National Water Quality Inventory, 45 percent of assessed rivers and streams were impaired; 47 percent of the nation's assessed lakes, ponds and reservoirs were impaired; and of the assessed bays and estuaries, 32 percent were impaired.
With an ever-expanding population and the potentially devastating impacts of global warming on our water supply, now is not the time to be weakening the Clean Water Act.
But due to the intervention of some of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, much of that progress is in jeopardy.
In two decisions on the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) in 2001 and Rapanos v. U.S. (Rapanos) in 2006, the Supreme Court cast a shadow over nearly 30 years-worth of expert agency interpretations in protecting America's waters.
In Rapanos, the Supreme Court failed to provide clear guidance for when the Clean Water Act applied, publishing five conflicting opinions with no majority ruling. This case has created massive confusion among judges, the regulated community, EPA and the Army Corps. But there is so much more at stake than confused lawyers, judges, agencies and stakeholders.
According to EPA data, 111.6 million Americans are served by water systems that receive water from intermittent or ephemeral streams or headwaters-the very waters now argued to be outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
Our nation's great recreation economy is at risk when our waters are at risk. According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, $122.3 billion was spent on fishing, hunting, and wildlife activities that year. 30 million people fished; 12.5 million hunted; 71.1 million took part in wildlife-observing activities.
Without clean, healthy waters and ecosystems, America risks losing much of its natural heritage.
The bottom line is that America's waterways and wetlands are threatened because of these Supreme Court decisions and the Bush Administration's interpretations of them.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem and I applaud Senator Feingold for his leadership on this issue. His bill simply restores the long-established jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to protect the waters it was intended to protect and has always protected.
Colleagues, after more than 35 years of improving and protecting water quality in America, we should be celebrating the Clean Water Act-not standing by and allowing its landmark protections to slip away.