Dirty Water: It’s a State’s Right!

Photo by mlhradio, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthigh/2273492840/sizes/m/in/photostream/">via Flickr</a>.

From the Department of Orwellian bill titles, today we have the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011.” Cooperation! What a nice word. But in the case of the bill being considered today in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, what that actually means is taking away federal oversight when it comes to the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s landmark environmental laws.

The bill’s text is here. The committee described the bill like this in a press release:

The bill amends the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore the long-standing balance between federal and state partners in regulating the nation’s waters, and to preserve the system of cooperative federalism established under the CWA in which the primary responsibilities for water pollution control are allocated to the states. The bill restricts EPA’s ability to second-guess or delay a state’s permitting and water quality certification decisions under the CWA after the federal agency has already approved a state’s program.

Translated, that means that the bill would give states, not the federal government, the ultimate control over upholding the Clean Water Act on a number of permitting issues. In practice this would mean each individual state gets oversight over water policy, taking us back to the days of the Cuyahoga River fire and Love Canal, before Congress passed a federal law in 1972.

The bill is bipartisan, sponsored by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), and 32 others. Mica is hot and bothered about the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to address nutrient pollution in Florida’s waterways. Rahall is mad that the EPA rejected an application to dump strip mining waste from a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia. At least we can get representatives from both sides of the aisle to agree  on undermining the nation’s foundational environmental laws!


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

Donate Now
  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.