TO: Outdoor Writers and Columnists
FR: Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited
DATE: June 13, 2012
RE: U.S. Congress Aims at Clean Water Act and Pulls Both Barrels
Over the past 2 weeks, both chambers of Congress have taken aim at the Clean Water Act with a flurry of amendments that undermine hunting, angling and outdoor recreation traditions along with the economic activity driven by these sports. Sportsmen and women across the country depend on clean streams and healthy wetland habitat, and it is important that they and all Americans understand what’s taking place – and what’s at stake.
Congress Launches Blistering Attacks
Since just the beginning of June, the Clean Water Act has been attacked on numerous fronts:
- On June 1, the House of Representatives defeated efforts to strike a provision in the annual Corps of Engineers budget bill (HR 5325) that would block the Corps from issuing and implementing Clean Water Act guidance for its staff. Our organizations and other hunting, angling and conservation groups strongly supported the amendment to strike this ill-conceived provision inserted in the budget bill by the House Appropriations Committee.
- On June 7, the House Transportation Committee approved a bill (HR 4965) barring the Corps and EPA from issuing Clean Water Act guidance or revising their Clean Water Act regulations based on such guidance.
- Multiple amendments that threaten clean water and wetland conservation are likely to be offered during debate on the Farm Bill. Amendments already filed in the Senate run the gamut from blocking new Corps and EPA guidance and rulemaking to one offered by Senator Rand Paul that would fundamentally change the intent of the Clean Water Act.
Senator Paul’s amendment would gut the Act’s wetland conservation objectives. It would limit the law only to waters that are navigable by boat or are permanent or continuously flowing and connected to navigable waters. The amendment specifically excludes certain waters from coverage, including “wetlands without a continuous surface connection to bodies of water” that are covered.
The implications of Senator Paul’s amendment are sweeping. Under this language, wetlands separated from a navigable river by the bank of that river would not be protected because they do not have a “continuous surface connection” to the river. Millions of acres of wetlands provide shallow sub-surface or periodic surface flows to navigable rivers and lakes. These wetlands are crucial to the health of navigable waters, yet could lose Clean Water Act protections if this amendment became law. Prairie pothole wetlands, the breeding grounds for at least 50 percent of all waterfowl in North America, would almost certainly be excluded because they are not navigable by boat, permanent or continuously flowing, or because they lack a “continuous surface connection” to navigable waters. If this amendment became law, wetland conservation as we’ve known it for 40 years would be swept away.
Wetland Gains Reversed
The erosion of clean water protections under the Supreme Court’s SWANCC and Rapanos decisions and the previous administration’s guidance are taking a toll on wetlands. The most recent report (“Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009,”www.fws.gov/wetlands/statusandtrends2009) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) demonstrates that the national trend toward reduced wetland losses – and even small gains in wetland conservation in the early part of the past decade – have been reversed. Between 2004 and 2009, FWS found net wetland acres dropped by 62,300 nationwide, which is a 140-percent increase in the rate of wetland loss compared with the 1998-2004 time frame. FWS also reports that forested wetlands declined by 633,000 acres, representing the “largest losses since the 1974 to 1985 time period.” The full extent of the country’s natural wetland loss is masked by growth of man-made retention and other ponds that are of more limited value for fish and wildlife, which FWS found increased by some 336,000 acres.
Outdoor Recreation Economy at Risk
Clean water and healthy wetlands support the nation’s outdoor recreation economy. Consider the following:
- According to the American Sportfishing Association, fishing generates $125 billion in direct and indirect economic activity across the United States and supports 1 million jobs every year.
- The National Marine Manufacturers Association found that boating contributes $41 billion to the economy and supports 337,000 jobs annually.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that duck hunting alone contributes $2.3 billion to the economy and supports 27,000 private sector jobs.
- FWS also estimates that 6.7 million trout anglers contribute nearly $5 billion annually to our economy.
These activities and the economic growth they support at the local, regional, and national levels all depend on healthy waters and wetlands to produce quality outdoor experiences. Clean streams and abundant wetlands are essential for fish and wildlife and the hunting, angling, and outdoor traditions tens of millions of Americans enjoy every year. These traditions and the economic activity they create are in real jeopardy today.
The current range of attacks by Congress on the Clean Water Act is unprecedented in recent memory. Members on both sides of the aisle in both chambers are lining up to take their shots. Not one, but a growing number of threats are rapidly converging on the water resources and fish and wildlife that matter most to sportsmen. We hope you can highlight this issue for your readers.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact us.
Scott Kovarovics, Izaak Walton League, (301) 548-0150 ext. 223, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation, (202) 797-6894, email@example.com
Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited, (703) 284-9406, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jaclyn McDougal – Regional Communications Manager – Southeast
Phone: 678-436-5072 | Cell: 404-683-8934 | Fax: 404-892-1744 | email@example.com
730 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 1000
Atlanta, GA 30308-1241
NWF is America’s largest conservation organization, celebrating 75 years of inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future