Claudia Copeland Specialist in Resources and Environmental
progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that Congress
established nearly 40 years ago in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore
and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the
nation’s waters. However, long-standing problems persist, and new problems
have emerged. Water quality problems are diverse, ranging from pollution runoff
from farms and ranches, city streets, and other diffuse or “nonpoint”
sources, to toxic substances discharged from factories and sewage
There is little agreement among stakeholders about what solutions are needed
and whether new legislation is required to address the nation’s remaining
water pollution problems. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend
the CWA have stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to
change the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on enacting narrow
bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs, but not any comprehensive
For several years, the most prominent legislative water quality issue has
concerned financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment
projects. House and Senate committees have approved bills on several
occasions, but, for various reasons, no legislation has been enacted. At issue
has been the role of the federal government in assisting states and cities in
meeting needs to rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants,
especially in light of capital costs that are projected to be as much as
$390 billion. In the 111th Congress,
the House passed H.R. 1262 to reauthorize the CWA’s State Revolving Fund
(SRF) program to finance wastewater infrastructure, and a companion bill,
S. 1005, was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
No legislation was enacted. Reauthorization legislation was introduced again in
the 112th Congress (H.R. 3145), but no
further action occurred.
Programs that regulate activities in wetlands also have been of interest,
especially CWA Section 404, which has been criticized by landowners for intruding
on private land-use decisions and for imposing excessive economic burdens.
Environmentalists view this regulatory program as essential for
maintaining the health of wetland ecosystems, and they are concerned about
court rulings that have narrowed regulatory protection of wetlands and
about related administrative actions. Many stakeholders desire
clarification of the act’s regulatory jurisdiction, but they differ on
what solutions are appropriate. In the 111th Congress,
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill that
sought to clarify but not expand the CWA’s geographic scope (S. 787).
Because some stakeholders believe that the bills would expand federal jurisdiction—not
simply clarify it—the bills were controversial, and no legislation was enacted. In
contrast to approaches reflected in earlier proposals, bills in the 112th Congress would have narrowed the scope of the act’s
jurisdiction (S. 2122/H.R. 4304).
These issues drew interest in the 112th Congress,
as well. In addition, a number of other CWA issues were the subject of
congressional oversight and legislation, with some legislators highly critical
of recent regulatory initiatives and others more supportive of EPA’s actions.
Among the topics of interest were environmental and economic impacts of
Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, federal promulgation of water quality
standards in Florida, regulation of surface coal mining activities in
Appalachia, and other CWA regulatory actions. Congressional interest in several
of these issues was reflected in debate over policy provisions of legislation
to provide appropriations for EPA in FY2012 (P.L. 112-74) and FY2013 (H.R.
Date of Report: January 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 27 Order Number: R41594 Price: $29.95
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