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Water-Regulation-As-Federalism Bill Passes House, Looks A Lot Like ALEC

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Newscom / DanitaDelimont.com

The mission of the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018) is self-evident in its title. It would eliminate, wholesale, the EPA's power to supersede individual states' water pollution rules. States would no longer be held to federal water quality standards they disagree with, and the EPA would be unable to make changes to Clean Water Act quality standards without states' approval.

It would prohibit the federal government from "specification of any defined area as a disposal site for the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters," so if the state does not believe the dumped material would harm drinking water or fisheries, then chemical dumping and manufacturing runoff would not be prevented.

The bill also makes it easier for developers to fill in wetlands, shortening the time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to file objections. The Service would also no longer be able to simply reject applications from companies wishing to dump waste material into bodies of water--they would now be required to file comments with each application within a 30 day time limit.

Any new regulation proposed by the EPA would require a full analysis to "analyze the impact, disaggregated by state, of such action on employment levels and economic activity," and post the analysis on their website. If a state is subject to lose more than 100 jobs or $1 million in revenue due to the regulations, notices would be placed in state capitol buildings and public hearings would be held.

Now on the Senate calendar to be the 103rd bill introduced this session, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 is sponsored by John Mica (R-FL) and Nick Rahall (D-WV), the chair and ranking Democrat of the Transportation Committee. In Rahall's state, the bill would stop the EPA from blocking new mountaintop removal coal mines, pollution from which has been recently linked to "significantly higher" rates of birth defects.

"Under the current practices of the EPA the permits for surface mines throughout the Appalachian states have been bottled up for months," Rahall recently explained to MetroNews Talkline, according to Coal Tattoo.

ALEC, the organization that brings GOP legislators together with lobbyists and right-wing activists to draft model legislation, recently had scores of such bills leaked by the Center for Media and Democracy. Several such documents are notably similar to H.R. 2018, wrangling concepts of federalism in an environmental context.

The "State Sovereignty Through Local Coordination Act," for example, proposes to allow towns and cities to reject state and federal regulations if they are more restrictive than local ones. The "State Implementation of the Clean Water Act Requirements," another ALEC draft, proposes that states determine the daily maximum load of contaminant that a body of water can legally contain, with "environmental, economic and technological feasibility" in mind.

Other ALEC model legislation takes a similar--and perhaps foreshadowing--tone with the federal Clean Air Act, with titles like the "State Sovereignty for Air Quality and Visibility Act," the "State Protection of Air Quality Related Values Act" and the "Resolution to Retain State Authority over Coal Ash as Non-Hazardous Waste."

"Untrammeled state authority on waters makes no sense whatsoever since waters don't stop at state boundaries, and what one state does affects other states downstream," David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote earlier this month, in an opinion piece titled "Federalism as Farce."

The Congressional Research Service filed a report on the bill, noting that "it is highly unusual for Congress to advance legislation that would broadly alter the federal-state partnership in order to address dissatisfaction with specific actions by EPA or another agency."

The chances of it passing the Senate are slim, and the White House has threatened to veto HB 2018 if it came to the President's desk, on the basis that it would "roll back the key provisions of the [Clean Water Act] that have been the underpinning of 40 years of progress in making the Nation's waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable."

About The Author

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Zoë Schlanger is Frontpage Editor at TPM. Zoë was a TPM intern in 2011, and prior to returning here she was editor in chief of NYU Local, the alternative independent student news site at NYU. Zoë has interned at places like the Nation, InsideClimate News, The Rachel Maddow Show and Gothamist. She can be reached at zoe@talkingpointsmemo.com.

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