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New bill would limit EPA powers under the Clean Water Act

By Michael Clark - 01 Jun 2011 18:5:0 GMT
New bill would limit EPA powers under the Clean Water Act

The Faces of Coal listed a press release on its Facebook page yesterday announcing the introduction to Congress of the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, a bill that would limit EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act to veto state permitting decisions.

Faces supports it because the transfer of permitting decisions to the state would likely result in less enforcement actions and permit revocations, limiting adverse impacts to the coal industry, a critical economic driver in Appalachia. Opponents say the bill will allow polluters to pollute more.

Under the current administration, the EPA, which listed protecting the nation's water as one of its 7 top priorities, has stepped up Clean Water Act enforcement actions against permit violations. A New York Times investigation, in 2009, indicated that enforcement between the years 2004 and 2009 had been lax. In some states, there was only one enforcement action for every 100 violations. These findings indicated the need to refocus federal efforts on enforcing the law.

The EPA has taken steps to increase Clean Water Act enforcement, publishing an enforcement plan, increasing the number of investigations, and filing major complaints against some of the worst violators. Recently, due to chronic CWA violations at six of its mines, the EPA compelled Consol to pay $5.5 million in civil penalties and to build a $200 million wastewater treatment facility. EPA detractors claim settlements like this are putting undue burdens on industry and killing jobs.

Word from the hydrofracking camp has yet to come, but the implications of the bill for this industry, whose wastewater discharges are regulated under the Clean Water Act, could be significant. The bill could be a boon for hydrofacking companies, as overburdened state regulators will less likely take on violators in this growing industry, but it could be a disaster for