Just in time for Halloween, the Senate is lining up three attacks on fishing and waterfowl hunting that should scare all sportsmen and women. They’re using rhetoric and must-pass legislation to disguise their attempts to take aim at the Clean Water Rule—produced by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to clarify that small streams and wetlands do indeed deserve protection under the Clean Water Act—so Americans can’t tell if they’re getting a trick or a treat. But, if lawmakers succeed in undermining the rule, it’ll be open season on the small streams and wetlands that are so critical to hunting and fishing opportunities from coast to coast.
Here’s why you should be spooked:
Attack #1: Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa has called for the use of an obscure legislative tool, known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to substitute the judgment of Congress for the deliberate and thorough multi-year public rulemaking process that produced the Clean Water Rule. The CRA gives Congress the ability to overturn agency actions using special rules that bypass the normal legislative process, and it has been used successfully only once since it was created in 1996.
The Clean Water Rule was produced as a result of feedback from more than 400 stakeholder meetings and an extended public-comment period. Nearly 900,000 members of the public commented in support, and a recent poll found that 83 percent of sportsmen and women think the Clean Water Act should apply to smaller streams and wetlands, as the new rule mandates.
Nevertheless, Sen. Ernst wants to wipe away all that good work and send us back to a time when 60 percent of stream miles and millions of wetlands were susceptible to pollution and habitat loss. What’s more, due to the unique nature of the CRA, her bill would lock in the uncertainty that exists in the Clean Water Act indefinitely, offering no constructive path forward for regulatory certainty or better clean water protection.
Attack #2: Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming has introduced a bill deceptively titled “The Federal Water Quality Protection Act” that would send the EPA and Corps back to square one with new, unnecessary, and duplicative requirements that both agencies would have to meet before producing a replacement rule. If Sen. Barrasso’s bill stopped there, it would set the cause of clean water back many years, but unfortunately, it goes even further. The bill would eliminate protections for waters currently covered by the Clean Water Act, disregard the impact on wildlife when deciding how to protect a body of water, make it more difficult to protect smaller headwater streams, and do away with protections for waters the bill calls “isolated.” Many of these areas are prime hunting and fishing grounds or primary breeding grounds for the vast majority of waterfowl in North America.
It’s not clear in which order the Senate will consider the attacks from Sens. Ernst and Barrasso, but either could come up for a vote any day now.
Attack #3: As Congress limps its way to another end-of-the-year deal to keep the federal government open, many members of Congress will be pushing behind-the-scenes to get the Clean Water Rule rolled back by cutting off the funding needed to implement it. Tucking a dirty water provision into a 1,000-page must-pass piece of legislation is no way to deal with our bedrock clean water standards, and sportsmen shouldn’t stand for it.
It’s crunch time for America’s hunters and anglers. The next two months could determine whether we’ll have a Clean Water Act that protects wetlands and headwater streams, and gives certainty to farmers, ranchers, and foresters, or whether we will slip back to a time when trout streams and waterfowl nesting grounds are at increased risk.