Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Waxman Visits the West Basin -- Thoughts on the Clean Water Act

Finally, Congressman Henry Waxman has visited the South Bay, after having taken the top spot in a primary on June 6, one that drew a fraction of the voters living in the district.

He decidede to pay a visit first to the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility, where recycled water is provided to non-potable customers throughout the South Bay.

Later, Congressman Waxman visit the West Basin Municipal Water District's Ocean-Water Desalination Demonstration Facility in Redondo Beach, then to the

Carol W. Kwan, West Basin Board Vice President commented:

“It was an honor to host Congressman Waxman today. His environmental credentials precede him and I applaud his commitment to sustainable water supplies for his constituents."

This visit brings up the Clean Water Act, an expansive piece of legislation, passed in 1972, which would enforce an administrative agency, the EPA, to provide standards and enforcement to protect our water ways and keep our water clean.

Here is a brief summary of the law:

The Clean Water Act: (CWA) regulates ‘point-source’ (sewage pipes) and ‘non-point-source’ (land and road runoff) water pollution. The EPA’s approach since the early 1990s is ‘watershed-based,’ which means cooperating across political boundaries.

Congressman Waxman esteemed the Clean Water Act, and he has hammered the current Congress for being one of the most anti-environmental in history (

Yet Waxman had this to say  about the Clean Water Act four years prior:

A report released today from Waxman’s office  found that the Environmental Protection Agency has shown a lax interest in enforcing the Clean Water Act in recent years, leading to hundreds of instances when investigations have been neglected and waterways have been threatened. From Waxman’s statement:
Our investigation reveals that the clean water program has been decimated as hundreds of enforcement cases have been dropped, downgraded, delayed, or never brought in the first place. We need to work with the new Administration to restore the effectiveness and integrity to this vital program.
This dust-up followed the 2006 Supreme Court decision Rapanos v. United States, in which a contractor wanted to fill up three wetland areas, which did not constitute traditional waters, the geographical areas protected by the Clean Water Act.

Just because an intermittent tributary emerged did not therefore constitute a waterway which would preclude Mr. Rapanos from constructing a mall on the site of the wetlands.

The issue of defining "wetlands", and of permitting a regulatory agency (the EPA) to make decisions based on vague rules poorly constituted in the legislation has created more problems rather than solving them. Congressman Waxman has endorsed such heavy-handed legislation to protect the environment, yet the rights of property owners to dispense with their property is another constitutional issue which still has not received adequate attention. The Green Overreach is the regulatory issue which Congress is trying to remedy, partly to help jumpstart the economy.

The Rapanos case was not the first time that an over-expansive reading of the statute has created problems for property owners. The Sacketts of Idaho (Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, )wanted the right to file an immediate appeal against the EPA, which had ruled that they could not build a home on their own property because the EPA had issued a compliane order enjoining construction on the wetlands in their land. They sought immediate relief, or face the consequence of paying $75,000 a day for noncompliance with the EPA while appealing their decision to enjoin their construction on their one property.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 is long overdue for a reassessment. No one wants to deal with dirty water, yet the Act has clearly failed to define at what point a private property owner may or may not build something on "wetlands", property which may or may not have an ongoing tributary to larger waterways.

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