The Obama administration has gotten pretty serious about the Clean Water Act lately. First the EPA launches the first-ever survey of the condition of the nation's wetlands.
Now it's trying to cut through the murk of two Supreme Court cases that Clean Water Act sponsor John Dingell once described as a "bungle."
Those two cases, Rapanos vs. U.S. and SWANCC vs. U.S., "produced a broad consensus of opinion, virtually unheard of when it comes to wetlands regulation, that the Supreme Court had made things worse, rather than better," a legal scholar told the New York Times recently.
This week EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unveiled a new policy on wetlands and stream jursidiction under the act -- policies designed to clear up the mess.
"Once finalized, the regulations will apply federal water quality standards to a range of waterways, including the headwaters of lakes and rivers as well as intermittent streams," the Washington Post reported today. And the Los Angeles Times said it "would broaden federal jurisdiction over small tributaries, seasonal streams and nearby wetlands" that are "not connected to traditional navigable waters."
Farm and industry groups have already begun complaining that this is a move by the federal government to extend its regulatory reach far beyond what the law allows.
But as we found in researching "Paving Paradise, that's not true. The sponsors of the original Clean Water Act said explicitly that their goal was to cover all the waters of the United States -- all of them, not just the ones connected to navigable waterways.
“Thus, this new definition clearly encompasses all water bodies, including main streams and their tributaries, for water quality purposes," Dingell said in 1972. "No longer are the old, narrow definitions of navigability . . . going to govern matters covered by this bill." Funny how the Supreme Court justices never seemed to catch onto that point.