Ben Cardin - Senator for Maryland

FLOOR STATEMENT BY U.S. SENATOR BEN CARDIN PROTECTING AMERICA’S WATERS

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Mr. President, this month, people all over the country will grab their tackle boxes and head off in pursuit of elusive trout in mountain streams. 

Mothers and fathers will turn on kitchen faucets and hand their children glasses of clean, pure drinking water. 

Farmers will irrigate their spring plantings of vegetables and grains with clear water from nearby streams. 

All over the United States, Americans will take advantage of the simple but priceless natural resource of America’s water. And thanks to the actions taken by the Obama Administration last week, we can rest assured that these vital resources are being protected by the full strength of the Clean Water Act.

Last week the Obama Administration released a guidance document on the jurisdictional waters of the United States.  The document was a sensible response to the confusion left in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings.

The draft guidance document that was released last week will help the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the near term as they make decisions about whether projects will impact the waters of the United States, and therefore require protective permits.

Eventually, this draft guidance document will be replaced by formal regulations that will ensure the Clean Water Act continues to protect America’s waters. 

For nearly 40 years, the Clean Water Act has safeguarded almost all our Nation’s waters.  These safeguards protect our rivers, streams, and wetlands from pollution in accordance with Congress’ intent that the landmark statute “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” 

Nowhere in America is the importance of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction more critical than in the Chesapeake Watershed.  We understand that more than 100,000 rivers and streams come together to form North America’s largest estuary and they are ALL critical to the health of the Chesapeake.  These streams and rivers, along with their associated wetlands, serve as: 

  • habitat for hundreds of species;
  • buffers by slowing the flow of pollutants into the Bay; and
  • sponges that soak up and hold large amounts of flood water and stormwater runoff.

Despite major steps forward that have resulted in a majority of the nation’s waters now being safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses, recent Supreme Court decisions, have placed this progress at risk.  The guidance developed by professional scientists and approved by the Obama Administration provides strong protection for our nation’s waters and restores the ability of Federal agencies to enforce the Clean Water Act. 

I also want to underscore the fact that the guidance reflects the long-standing agricultural and other exemptions codified in the Clean Water Act.

Mr. President, this is a common-sense solution right in the mainstream of American values.

The Supreme Court’s recent rulings put millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams at risk.

The Court’s decision in its 2001 ruling in SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its more recent rulings in 2006—Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers—threatened to roll back the Clean Water Act, making nearly 60 percent of our nation’s waters vulnerable to polluters. 

The waters threatened by the narrowing of Clean Water Act protections are important for fish and wildlife habitat, flood protection, and supplying drinking water. 

More than 117 million Americans receive drinking water supplied at least in part by headwaters and similar streams.            

These vital streams and wetlands are also critical to the health of our most treasured water bodies from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain to the Puget Sound. 

Millions of small streams and wetlands provide the freshwater that flows into these regional economic engines and emblems of cherished ways of life.  If we do not protect this incredible network of waters, we cannot hope to restore these water bodies to health.

As Americans, we cherish clean water and the magnificent bounty we are blessed with.  That is why last week’s announcement was met with such strong support from a broad range of Americans, especially from our sportsmen.

Among the groups supporting the Administration’s action are Ducks Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Trout Unlimited.

As chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I am especially pleased that the Administration has taken such a strong and sensible approach to protecting our nation’s waters. 

Too often we raise our voices to criticize the actions of others.  Today, I am proud to add my voice to the chorus of thanks to the Obama Administration for a job well done. 

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