Leahy: New Clean Water Act Guidance That Underscores Pollution Rules For Streams And Wetlands Offers ‘Sturdier Framework’ For Protecting Lake Champlain

WEDNESDAY (April 14) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday said new guidance on Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands will dispel confusion sown by two Supreme Court decisions, giving Vermont and Vermonters a “sturdier framework” for cleaning up Lake Champlain and other critical waterways. 

Leahy commended a multi-agency task force -- the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior – for producing the new guidance, released Wednesday, that upholds longstanding protections of the Clean Water Act.  USDA was heavily involved and helped to ensure that existing exemptions are maintained for ongoing agricultural and forestry activities, giving Vermont farmers, ranchers and forest landowners certainty that current agricultural and forestry activities can continue.  The guidance is now open for a 60-day comment period.

The Clean Water Protection Guidance governs how federal agencies interpret the scope of their authority under the Clean Water Act by clarifying which U.S. bodies of water merit federal regulatory protection.  The new guidance will provide greater certainty to regulators, landowners, farmers, developers and conservationists in the wake of two Supreme Court decisions, in 2001 and 2006, which stirred confusion into federal jurisdiction over wetlands and streams.  The Court’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act increased the vulnerability of nearly 60 percent of the nation’s waters by removing Clean Water Act protections for many streams, small rivers and wetlands that are especially prone to pollution. 

Leahy noted that in Vermont, the health of Lake Champlain may have been threatened if the basin’s streams and wetlands had been left unprotected by federal law.  The new guidance, when final, would ensure the continued protection of these critical waterways, which ordinary Americans depend on for water to drink and for fishing, swimming, boating and other recreation.

Leahy said, “The confusion caused by these court decisions would benefit powerful interests and big polluters at the expense of ordinary Americans and the public’s health.  I commend the administration for taking the long view, the courageous view, and the proper view in standing up for Clean Water protections that already have benefitted millions and millions of Americans. Clean water and healthy watersheds are crucial to our environment, to our communities and to our economy. This new framework will help protect Lake Champlain and other sensitive waterways and wetlands in Vermont and throughout the nation.  This is an achievement in sound public policy and good stewardship.” 

Leahy and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were among 14 senators who wrote a letter to President Obama during the drafting process, urging the task force to uphold longstanding Clean Water Act standards and to release this new guidance to address the confusion created by the two Supreme Court cases. To read the text of the letter, please click here.

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Please click here for information on the draft Clean Water framework.

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