Jun 19, 2009

Water Pollution, Conservation Bills Clear Senate Committee

Controversial measure clarifying wetlands regulatory authority passes

A number of water pollution and conservation bills cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee June 18. The panel voted along party lines to approve a controversial measure clarifying wetlands regulatory authority, E&E Daily reported.

The bills include measures to increase coastal water quality monitoring, intensify Great Lakes cleanup and require reporting of sewage overflows. Several of the bills have already been voted on in the House.

S. 878, sponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), doubles the grant money for programs that monitor pollution in coastal waters and the Great Lakes, the newsletter reported. Funding would grow from $30 million to $60 million per year under the five-year measure. Lawmakers from coastal states have lauded the measure as a way to protect tourism industries. A companion bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier.

Another bipartisan bill, S. 933, triples funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which was designed to remove contaminated sediment from the lakes. Similar legislation passed the House in March. Under the five-year measure, funding would grow from $50 million per year to $150 million, according to the newsletter.

S. 937 requires sewage treatment operators to monitor and report sewage overflows. The House passed similar legislation in March.

S. 690 was also approved. It would boost funding to protect the habitat of migratory birds, and authorizes $8 million for fiscal year 2010, escalating to $20 million for fiscal year 2015.

S. 479, which would reauthorize the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program, was passed by voice vote. The bill helps fund a network of parks, refuges, museums, historic sites and water trails spanning the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) placed a "hold" on S. 787, a controversial wetlands bill, setting up a battle on the Senate floor. S. 787 would "navigable waters" with "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act, a move Democrats say is necessary to restore the law's original intent of protecting all U.S. waters including non-navigable wetlands.

Previous Supreme Court decisions tightened interpretation of the law and caused confusion among regulators.

The committee replaced the text of the bill with a compromise crafted by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that protects existing exemptions for sewer facilities some agricultural operations.

Republicans argued that removing the word "navigable" broadens the intended scope of the Clean Water Act and opens the door for undue regulations on farmers, developers and other industry stakeholders, according to the newsletter.

The measure passed the committee by a 12-7 margin but failed to win a Republican vote, Greenwire reported.