PDF _ IB10108 - Clean Water Act Issues in the 108th Congress
21-Jul-2004; Claudia Copeland; 19 p.

Update: September 17, 2004

MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Water infrastructure funding legislation is receiving attention in the 108th Congress because of recent estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency that as much as $390 billion will be needed over the next two decades to rebuild, repair, and upgrade the nation?s wastewater treatment plants. On June 23, 2004, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill (S. 2550) to provide $41.25 billion over five years for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure programs. On July 17, 2003, a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee subcommittee approved a bill to authorize $20 billion over five years for the Clean Water Act?s program that assists municipal wastewater treatment projects (H.R. 1560), but no further action on the legislation has occurred. The full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has approved four bills to reauthorize several current, primarily geographic-specific programs in the law (H.R. 784, H.R. 4470, H.R. 4688, and H.R. 4731).

Omnibus energy legislation (H.R. 6) includes a provision that would give the oil and gas industry a permanent exemption from Clean Water Act stormwater runoff rules. The conference report passed the House on November 18. The Senate failed to invoke cloture on H.R. 6 on November 21, but a revised version (S. 2095), introduced on February 12, could receive further attention. The modified bill, which retains the oil and gas exemption provision, is a scaled-down energy policy bill, intended in part to reduce the overall cost of the legislation?s revenue and incentive provisions.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, congressional attention has focused on security, preparedness, and emergency response issues, including at the nation?s water infrastructure facilities (both wastewater and drinking water). In the 108th Congress, the House has passed a bill authorizing grants to enhance security of wastewater treatment works (H.R. 866), and a Senate committee has approved similar legislation (S. 1039).

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Abstract: Prospects for legislative initiatives to comprehensively amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) have stalled for some time over whether and exactly how to change the law, and Congress has recently focused legislative attention on narrow bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs, rather than taking up comprehensive proposals. The 107th Congress enacted a bill authorizing funding to clean up contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes (P.L. 107-303).

For several years, the most prominent water quality issue has concerned financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment projects. In 2002, House and Senate committees approved bills to reauthorize the Act?s wastewater infrastructure funding program, but no further action occurred. This issue has again received attention in the 108th Congress. At issue is how the federal government will assist states and cities in meeting needs to rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants, especially in light of capital costs which are projected to be as much as $390 billion over the next two decades. In July 2003, a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee approved legislation to authorize $20 billion in funding for clean water infrastructure (H.R. 1560), and in June 2004, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also approved a water infrastructure financing bill (S. 2550). Still, prospects for further action during the 108th Congress are uncertain.

Several other Clean Water Act issues could receive congressional attention, through oversight hearings and possibly in legislative proposals. Among the topics of interest is whether and how the Administration will revise the current program for restoration of pollution-impaired waters (the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL program), in view of controversy over regulatory changes made during the Clinton Administration and continuing disagreement among states, cities, industry, and environmental advocates about program effectiveness and efficiency.

Programs that regulate activities in wetlands, especially CWA Section 404, have been criticized by landowners for intruding on private land-use decisions and imposing excessive economic burdens. Environmentalists view these programs as essential for maintaining the health of wetland ecosystems. These groups are concerned about a 2001 Supreme Court decision that narrowed regulatory protection of wetlands, as well as recent administrative actions which they believe will likewise diminish protection.

Also of interest are water pollution problems due to waste discharges from large animal feeding operations, termed Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The 108th Congress may examine details of revised clean water rules for management of CAFO waste issued by EPA in December 2002 and overall efforts to address animal waste management problems.

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Topics: Water, Legislative, Agriculture

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