Today, the Committee will consider legislation that would undermine one of our nation's landmark laws - the Clean Water Act - and roll back protections for small streams and wetlands that provide drinking water to roughly 1 in 3 Americans or 117 million people.
We talk a lot about national security, as we should. Nothing is more important than protecting the lives of the American people. Members of this Committee should understand that when we weaken the Clean Water Act, we are putting people in danger.
The Clean Water Act prevents the uncontrolled pollution of the streams, rivers, and lakes where our children swim and that provide drinking water to millions of Americans. If the Clean Water Act does not apply, polluters can dump raw sewage that would sicken children swimming in contaminated waters. Factories can discharge industrial waste containing heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, and selenium. Drilling companies can discharge wastewater containing known carcinogens like benzene and chromium-6. We need a strong Clean Water Act to ensure this does not happen.
Decades ago, the United States experienced widespread damage and degradation to our environment -- the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, was on fire and our lakes were dying from pollution. The American people demanded action, and in 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
Unfortunately, the legislation before us today would take us in the wrong direction by removing protections and creating more confusion and uncertainty about which waters are protected. It would ignore the overwhelming science showing the importance of small streams and wetlands. That is why over 80 scientists with expertise in the importance of streams and wetlands, as well as the Society for Freshwater Science, have written to us opposing this bill.
We have also received opposition letters from numerous Sportsmen groups, including the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Izaak Walton League of America, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Trout Unlimited. These groups understand the important link between clean water and the outdoor recreation economy.
Over 40 leading law professors that study, teach, and write about the Clean Water Act have concluded that "S. 1140 would constitute a massive weakening of the Clean Water Act."
I ask unanimous consent to enter these and other letters of opposition into the record.
The final Clean Water Rule that S. 1140 will block clearly protects streams that provide drinking water to millions of Americans while establishing exemptions for numerous water bodies that do not impact downstream water quality. For the first time, Federal regulations will explicitly exclude numerous types of ditches, stormwater collection and treatment systems, artificial ponds, water-filled depressions, puddles, and recycling water facilities. If the Barrasso bill, S. 1140, passes, all of these new exemptions will be blocked.
The Barrasso bill would create more confusion for businesses and landowners by taking away new exemptions and sending EPA and the Corps back to square one to try to figure out the confusing new terms and standards in the bill. After years of uncertainty following two Supreme Court decisions, we should not pass legislation that would create more confusion and invite years of new litigation.
The Obama Administration's efforts are about protecting drinking water for American families and businesses, and the process it has undertaken has been open and inclusive. More than 1 million comments were received during a comment period that lasted over 200 days, and over 400 outreach meetings with stakeholders and state and local governments were conducted.
The bill before us would ignore this robust outreach effort and waste millions of taxpayer dollars by requiring EPA to repeat outreach that has already been carried out. This is unnecessary and wasteful and does nothing to ensure American families and businesses have clean water.
Instead of advancing a bill that would allow more pollution of the nation's waterways, we should listen to the wide variety of stakeholders that support the proposed clean water rule. A poll released last month shows that 78% think Congress should allow the rule to move forward. In addition, a July 2014 poll found that 80% of small business owners support protections for upstream headwaters and wetlands in the proposed clean water rule.
It is time to restore much-needed certainty, consistency, and effectiveness to the Clean Water Act. S. 1140 does just the opposite. It would result in further delay, more uncertainty, and less protection for our nation's waterways.