1) Clean Water Act: A Summary of the Law
Here is a summary:
The principal law governing pollution of the nation’s surface waters is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Clean Water Act. Originally enacted in 1948, it was totally revised by amendments in 1972 that gave the act its current dimensions. The 1972 legislation spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvement that have since been expanded and are still being implemented by industries and municipalities.
This report presents a summary of the law, describing the statute without discussing its implementation. Other CRS reports discuss implementation, including CRS Report R41594, Water Quality Issues in the 112th Congress: Oversight and Implementation, and numerous products cited in that report.
The Clean Water Act consists of two major parts, one being the provisions which authorize federal financial assistance for municipal sewage treatment plant construction. The other is the regulatory requirements that apply to industrial and municipal dischargers. The act has been termed a technology-forcing statute because of the rigorous demands placed on those who are regulated by it to achieve higher and higher levels of pollution abatement under deadlines specified in the law. Early on, emphasis was on controlling discharges of conventional pollutants (e.g., suspended solids or bacteria that are biodegradable and occur naturally in the aquatic environment), while control of toxic pollutant discharges has been a key focus of water quality programs more recently.
Prior to 1987, programs were primarily directed at point source pollution, that is, wastes discharged from discrete sources such as pipes and outfalls. Amendments to the law in that year authorized measures to address nonpoint source pollution (runoff from farm lands, forests, construction sites, and urban areas), which is estimated to represent more than 50% of the nation’s remaining water pollution problems. The act also prohibits discharge of oil and hazardous substances into U.S. waters.
Under this act, federal jurisdiction is broad, particularly regarding establishment of national standards or effluent limitations. Certain responsibilities are delegated to the states, and the act embodies a philosophy of federal-state partnership in which the federal government sets the agenda and standards for pollution abatement, while states carry out day-to-day activities of implementation and enforcement.
To achieve its objectives, the act is based on the concept that all discharges into the nation’s waters are unlawful, unless specifically authorized by a permit, which is the act’s principal enforcement tool. The law has civil, criminal, and administrative enforcement provisions and also permits citizen suit enforcement.
Financial assistance for constructing municipal sewage treatment plants and certain other types of water quality improvements projects is authorized under title VI. It authorizes grants to capitalize State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds, or loan programs. States contribute matching funds, and under the revolving loan fund concept, monies used for wastewater treatment construction are repaid to states, to be available for future construction in other communities.
And, if you have not had your fill after reading the above, try this one....
2) Controversies over Redefining “Fill Material” Under the Clean Water Act
In May 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) announced a regulation redefining two key terms, “fill material” and “discharge of fill material,” in rules that implement Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. This report discusses the 2002 rule, focusing on how it changes which material and types of activities are regulated under Section 404 and the significance of these issues, especially for the mining industry.
The Clean Water Act contains two different permitting regimes: (1) Section 402 permits (called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit program) address the discharge of most pollutants, and (2) Section 404 permits address the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters of the United States at specified sites. These permit programs differ in nature and approach. The NPDES program focuses on the effects of pollutant discharges on water quality. The 404 program considers effects on the aquatic ecosystem and other national and resource interests.
The Corps and EPA have complementary roles under Section 404. Landowners seeking to discharge dredged or fill material must obtain a permit from the Corps under Section 404. EPA provides environmental guidance on 404 permitting. The determination of what is “fill material” is important, since fill material is subject to 404 permit requirements, while discharge of non-fill material is regulated by EPA under the Section 402 NPDES permit program.
The revised rule was intended to clarify the regulatory definition of fill material by replacing two separate and inconsistent definitions with a single, common definition. It expanded the types of discharge activities that are subject to Section 404 specifically to include construction or maintenance of the infrastructure associated with solid waste landfills and mining overburden. Further, the revised rule removed regulatory language which previously excluded “waste” discharges from Section 404 jurisdiction, a change that some argue allows the use of 404 permits to authorize certain discharges that harm the aquatic environment.
The final rule completed a rulemaking begun in April 2000 by the Clinton Administration. Its proposal had generated support from the mining industry and other regulated groups, and considerable opposition from environmental groups. The final rule is substantially similar to the earlier proposal. Environmental groups say the rule allows for inadequate regulation of certain disposal activities, including disposal of coal mining waste. The Clinton and Bush Administrations said that the regulatory changes were intended to conform Corps and EPA regulations to existing lawful practice, but opponents contend that those practices violate the Clean Water Act. Legislation to reverse the revised regulations was introduced in the 112th Congress (H.R. 1375, the Clean Water Protection Act). Similar legislation was introduced in previous Congresses. The Obama Administration’s views on these issues are unknown for now.
Hope you have had your 'fill' for now; if not, here is one more:
3) Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
This report from the National Intelligence Council deals with more than just water, but the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in combination with climate change is one of four overarching megatrends that will shape the world in 2030. The others are Individual Empowerment; The Diffusion of Power; and Demographic Patterns.
It's going to be quite a ride. Hope I'm still around!
Thanks to Matthew Garcia for alerting me to this report.
"...the idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”- John Maynard Keynes, 1937 (from the NIC report)