Front Porch Blog

Will This March Madness Be An Upset for Clean Water?


Help Prevent a Clean Water Upset (Picture by mvongrue, hosted by Flickr)

UPDATE: The Senate Budget Resolution passed without any of the amendments mentioned below. Victory!

As most of you know, between the federal House of Representatives and the Senate, the Senate is usually the level-headed older brother of the family and tends to be a more deliberative legislative body. But this month the Senate decided it wanted to shake things up a bit by creating a little March Madness of its own.

The Senate is going through a seemingly insane process known on Capitol Hill as a vote-a-rama to reach a deal on a final Senate budget resolution. Senate leadership is allowing any number of amendments to be presented and voted on — whatever they can get done in 50 hours.

While all the amendments have yet to be presented, several of them take aim at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to do its job, which is to protect our air, water and public health. Some of the amendments could stop the EPA from:

    – Making sure states are complying with and improving water quality standards in accordance to the Clean Water Act.
    – Creating national standards for how coal ash, the toxic waste produced by coal-burning for electricity, is disposed and stored.
    – Restoring critical Clean Water Act protections to streams, wetlands and drinking water standards.

TAKE ACTION: We are asking supporters to contact their Senators. If you haven’t yet, there is still time.

A revised report from the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan research arm of Congress, hopefully lessens the chances of a coal ash amendment rearing its ugly head. The latest report criticizes the coal ash bills that have been passed in the House and introduced in the Senate, bills that would make it extremely difficult for the EPA to protect water and communities from this toxic waste product.

If the CRS report sounds familiar, you can actually thank the supporters of the bill criticized in the report. They attempted to strong-arm the CRS into changing the report. The CRS did, but only to make the case even stronger against the proposed legislation.

According to Lisa Evans at Earthjustice, the CRS report reaffirmed that the Senate and House bills would result in:

(1) No EPA authority to regulate. “Under the new approach, EPA would have no formal role in creating state programs to regulate (coal combustion residues).”

(2) No EPA authority to develop or approve state programs. “[I]n contrast to existing RCRA programs, EPA would not be directed to establish regulations applicable to disposal facilities or to approve of state programs to implement those regulations.”

(3) No federal minimum standards. The report notes that the bills would “allow individual states to define key terms…. Hence program applicability could vary from state to state, depending on how each state defines those terms.”

(4) No deadlines for issuing permits. The report observes that the bills would “establish no explicit deadlines for the issuance of permits or for facility compliance with applicable regulations, allowing individual states to establish such deadlines.”

(5) No federal backstop authority. The report states, “the bills would not provide EPA with authority to backstop state programs to regulate (coal combustion residue) facilities;” and

(6) No protective standard. The report notes, “There is no provision in Section 4011 that explicitly requires regulations promulgated by the state and implemented by a CCR Permit Program to achieve a certain level of protection.”

We hope these findings will continue to keep some members of Congress from supporting the bills, even as the legislation’s backers continue to insist that the report is flawed.

Facts are helpful, but your voice can help seal the deal. With that in mind, help make sure this March Madness doesn’t end in an upset against clean water. Contact your Senators and urge them to vote against any dirty water amendments.

With Colombian roots, a Philadelphia, Pa.-childhood, and more than a decade in Florida before joining Appalachian Voices, Sandra served as AV's North Carolina campaign coordinator and driving force behind the Red, White & Water campaign from 2007 to 2013.


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