U.S. Water News
WASHINGTON -- The potential for a flood of citizen
against virtually any business that releases effluent should
force reauthorization of the federal Clean Water Act in the
current 104th Congress, according to Capitol Hill observers.
Under the existing Clean Water Act, a provision allows the
filing of suits against any alleged polluter, with potential
fines of up to $25,000 per day for proven violation of
federal wastewater standards. This possibility of litigation
is "unthinkable and unconscionable to small businesses,
particularly in agriculture," noted Greg Ruehle, a spokesman
for the Clean Water Coalition.
At least one official of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has suggested that the potential green light
for citizen pollution suits is, in effect, a "poison pill"
in the existing law to force the issue of revision this
Nonpoint source pollution, runoff from streets and farmland
that accounts for at least half of the nation's remaining
water pollution problems, is expected to be a major issue
any renewal of federal clean water law. The failure during
the last days of Congress last year was in large part due
the unresolved issue of unfunded federal mandates, and the
topic is likely to be mentioned repeatedly during upcoming
"We anticipate significant revisions to the bill
provisions on unfunded mandates, risk assessment and cost
benefit analysis, nonpoint source pollution, and
stormwater," stated House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee Chairman Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, who has
introduced H.R. 961, the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1995.
"We plan to review more comprehensive proposals to overhaul
the programs, remove red tape and unnecessary requirements,
and increase flexibility for state and local governments,"
Although the 142-page bill contains eight titles, including
one on wetlands conservation and management, Shuster
emphasized that the legislation is "only a starting point."
Markup of the bill is expected early this month, and already
Shuster's committee has conducted over a half-dozen
hearings. The bill is similar to a draft Shuster circulated
but did not introduce last year as a "discussion
alternative" to H.R. 3948, the ill-fated bill introduced by
then-Committee Chairman Norman Mineta of California.
Reflecting the current emphasis in Washington on cutting
budgets, H.R. 961 includes a reduction in the amount of
federal funding to state revolving loan funds.
The federal Clean Water Act, originally passed in 1972, was
comprehensively reauthorized in 1987 but authorization of
many of its programs has since expired. Efforts to
reauthorize the law during the past two sessions of Congress
ended in failure.
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