House GOP Passes Dirty-Water Bill

July 14, 2011 1:32 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Last night, the House passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, an antiregulatory measure sponsored by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) that strips the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to update clean water standards. The bill passed with the strong support of the mining and coal industries.

The anti-EPA measure is part of a sustained campaign to cripple the agency after it issued an endangerment finding listing carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Earlier in the year, for instance, House Republicans introduced legislation to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouses gases altogether and to "bar the government from using any environmental law to fight global warming pollution."

The Hill reports:

Under the bill, the EPA would be prohibited from issuing new water-quality standards for a given pollutant if the EPA has already approved a state water-quality standard for the pollutant, unless the state agrees with the EPA.

It also says the EPA cannot supersede a state's determination that a discharge into the environment will comply with applicable environmental standards. If the EPA has approved a state program under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, the EPA cannot withdraw this approval simply because it and the state disagree.

Also under the bill, the EPA could not block states from listing an area as a disposal site if the state sees it as an appropriate site.

In other words, if the EPA approves a standard but later finds that the standard was inadequate, the legislation would prohibit the agency from addressing those new findings. In a letter to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), the ranking member of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, the agency warned that the legislation would prohibit it from "taking action without state concurrence even in the face of significant scientific information demonstrating threats to human health or aquatic life."

As the National Wildlife Federation points out, the bill "is one of the most brazen attempts to roll back the Clean Water Act we've seen since it was signed into law in 1972." Though the legislation has little chance of even being taken up in the Senate, the White House has already threatened a veto, noting that the bill "could limit efforts to safeguard communities by removing the Federal Government's authority to take action when State water quality standards are not protective of public health."

So when we hear Republicans decry regulatory overreach, remember that they're not just talking about how long it takes to get a business permit or comply with some other burdensome bureaucratic red tape. As the sustained attack on the EPA illustrates, the fight against "overregulation" is actually an effort to gut the standards that keep industry from treating our land, skies, and waterways as their own trash dumps.