Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer

Hearing on “Impacts of the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule on State and Local Governments”

February 4, 2015

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

What today’s hearing is really about is ensuring we have safe, clean water.  Families and businesses in communities across the nation depend on clean water, and it is our responsibility to protect it.

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, recent events in Toledo, Ohio -- on the shores of Lake Erie -- remind us that the battle to protect our nation’s waters continues.  Last summer, approximately half a million Toledo residents went without drinking water for days because nutrient pollution washed into Lake Erie, causing toxic algae to bloom.

The Toledo drinking water crisis shows how our drinking water sources, which are often large bodies of water like Lake Erie, can be severely impacted by the pollution that flows downstream.  If we are serious about ensuring that that the waterways our children and families rely on for drinking water are free from pollution, we must uphold protections for the small streams and wetlands that feed into our rivers and lakes.  Roughly 1 in 3 Americans -- 117 million people -- get some or all of their drinking water from water systems that rely in part on small streams, including many that may not flow year-round.  

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made it much more difficult to protect our drinking water sources from unchecked pollution because of confusion created by two of its decisions.  This has put thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands at risk.

In response to calls from industry, environmental organizations, and 30 of my Senate Republican colleagues who requested a full rulemaking to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, the Obama Administration proposed a rule that defines which waters are protected under the Act.

Defending our waterways from pollution used to be a bipartisan issue.  Both the Reagan Administration and George W. Bush Administration defended the broad scope of the Clean Water Act before the Supreme Court.  And for decades, members of both parties understood that wetlands, lakes, and small streams are interconnected and water pollution must be controlled at its source.

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.

A wide variety of stakeholders support the proposed clean water rule.  A September 2012 poll found that regardless of political affiliation, 79% of hunters and anglers favor restoring Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and waterways, including smaller creeks and streams.  A July 2014 poll found that 80% of small business owners support protections for upstream headwaters and wetlands in the proposed clean water rule.

There has been a lot of misinformation on this issue, but let me be clear -- this rule leaves in place the exemptions for agriculture, ranching and forestry that have existed for decades.  This effort is really about providing clean water for families and businesses.  It only focuses on those waters that the science clearly shows have an impact on water quality.

It is time to restore much-needed certainty, consistency, and effectiveness to the Clean Water Act and put the nation back on track toward clean, healthy waters for all.

We cannot wait any longer.