Jul 21, 2010

Groups Urge Congressional Hearings on H.R. 5088 Water Bill

Land Rights Assn. says multiple interests affected by “massive federal power grab”

Groups that have been battling to defeat Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar's federal water bill since 2007 are calling for hearings and open meetings on what they consider to be the largest federal power grab in the nation's history, according to the American Land Rights Assn.

The bill (H.R. 5088) is called America's Commitment to Clean Water Act, introduced by Oberstar during Earth Week to replace his previous version, the Clean Water Restoration Act. Oberstar chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has sole jurisdiction of the bill.

The ranking minorities of the House Committees on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Small Business recently signed a joint letter to the Committee Chairs asking for hearings and other public input opportunities on the bill.

The bill, if approved, would overturn two U.S. Supreme Court decisions (SWANCC, 2001, and Rapanos, 2006) by replacing the word “navigable” with “waters of the U.S.” in the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Waters of the U.S., as prescribed in Oberstar's new bill would include:
• All waters that are currently used, were used in the past or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
• All interstate and international waters, including interstate and international wetlands; and
• All other waters, including intrastate lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes and natural ponds; and
• All impoundments and tributaries of these waters.

The definition would also include uses that affect these waters, generally considered “non-point” sources such as land use and atmospheric deposition, the association noted.

Don Parmeter of St. Paul, Minn., and Kathy McDonald of Vancouver, Wash., are co-chairs of the National Water and Conservation Alliance, established last year to develop and promote local and regional alternatives to the federal proposal.

Parmeter said state and local solutions to water quality and other environmental problems are better, faster and cheaper, and have proven effective in Oberstar's own district, as well as in other parts of the country.

"This top-down, command and control mentality from Washington is killing this country and alienating people from every walk of life," Parmeter said.

"If we're going to build better communities, it needs to be done from the bottom up, not from the top down,” McDonald said. "Mr. Oberstar's bill will remove flexibility and take power away from local people and state and local elected officials."