Statements and Speeches

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the Environment & Public Works Committee released the following statement regarding the committee’s Business Meeting to consider S. 1140, Federal Water Quality Protection Act.

“Protecting our national watersheds helps to ensure our country’s drinking water is safe, while investing in a resource that fuels both our local and national economies. The federal government’s best tools for accomplishing these goals are the authorities granted to it by the Clean Water Act. Since its enactment in 1972, the Clean Water Act has led to significantly cleaner water in this country. Before this law, only about 30 percent of our nation’s waters were safe to swim and fish. But today, that number has doubled to 60 percent. This is tremendous progress, but our work is not complete. Many waters in this country still fail to meet our health standards and need to be cleaned up further. 

“We know that small streams and wetlands are where many of our rivers, bays, and coastal waters begin.  Protecting these small streams and wetlands from pollutants and other harmful substances can have a huge impact on the safety of our drinking water. Providing that protection must be a top priority. After all, these water sources can reach more than 100 million people. 

“But that’s not our only important concern. These small streams and wetlands provide critical habitats for fish and wildlife, provide water for our crops and livestock, and protect communities from rising floodwaters. 

“We know the key to protecting these water sources is to start from the top. The precautions we take upstream result in healthy water downstream. However, protections for upstream water sources have dwindled over the past two decades as a result of court decisions that have created uncertainty, and due to the failure of Congress to provide clarity on the law. 

“In an effort to ensure that the federal government is doing what it should to keep our water clean and safe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized the Waters of the United States rule. It seeks to clarify which wetlands and streams are critical upstream water sources that must be protected under the Clean Water Act in order to maintain safe quality standards in our rivers, bays and coastal waters.

“Today, this committee is considering legislation offered by our friend and colleague from Wyoming, Senator Barrasso, that would push the pause button on the EPA’s new rule in an effort to elicit even more clarity for the businesses and individuals that may be affected by the rule. I commend his hard work on this issue and appreciate his concern about the possibility of unintended consequences imposed by a new federal regulation. I believe we must always be mindful of placing any undue burden on our citizens. 

“But the process to finalize this rule was not hasty – the EPA held open a period of public comment for more than 200 days. This lengthy comment period resulted in more than one million comments to the rule. In addition, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and visited farms in nine states. All of which helped shaped the final rule for the better. In the final rule, the administration further clarified what streams and wetlands would be regulated, provided additional protections to the agriculture community, and focused protections on streams not ditches. I truly believe that the administration used this input to try to strike a balance between protecting the environment, public health, our agriculture communities, and our continued economic recovery.

“However, despite the administration’s genuine efforts, I would acknowledge that the final rule is not perfect.  Indeed, I’m not sure that any of them are.

“One of my guiding principles is that if something isn’t perfect, we should endeavor to make it better. That certainly rings true for federal regulations. I’ve solicited input from my constituents in Delaware on how the rule could be improved and have consulted with our state’s Secretaries of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Environmental Control. This counsel has helped me understand that, despite the agriculture exemptions in the EPA’s regulation, there are still some concerns about which waterbodies and practices will be regulated.  I know the EPA is still trying to address these concerns as it rolls out the regulation.

“Although I believe Senator Barrasso’s legislation is intended to address some of the uncertainties people have expressed with the EPA’s new rule, I also believe the legislation moves too far in the direction of rolling back critical protections.  Therefore, I will not cast my vote today in its favor. While I won’t be supporting the legislation, I do think there are several aspects of his bill that do have merit. For example, I believe a report to Congress on how to ensure communities are not harmed unintentionally by this new rule would be helpful to ensure EPA is on the right track. I also believe that the concept of a map showing watersheds that must be protected is a good one, as long as it is drawn thoroughly and carefully. 

“I believe principled compromise on tough issues is the only way we in Congress can do our jobs effectively, and I hope it’s what we will do on this issue. I look forward to working together in the days ahead with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and with the Obama Administration, to provide even greater clarity through this regulation and, by doing so, better ensuring that our country and its citizens end up with  both cleaner water and a stronger economy.”