Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Congress Considers Limits on EPA Regarding Clean Water Act

A congressional subcommittee has begun hearings on legislation that could limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to deny or restrict use of a defined area for specific purposes, including mining.

HR 4854, the Regulatory Certainty Act, had its first hearing on July 15 before the House Subcommittee on Water, Resources and the Environment. The session was chaired by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, the bill’s sponsor.

Gibbs’ bill would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify when the EPA has the authority to use section 404 of the Clean Water Act to deny or restrict use of defined areas for specific purposes.

In his opening remarks, Gibbs criticized the EPA for “setting itself up as the ultimate manager of land use and economic development in the nation.

“This is an example of government that thinks it has no limitations on its power,” Gibbs said. The legislation, which would have to make its way through the full House and then the Senate, is already drawing criticism from Trout Unlimited and United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the tribal body that asked the EPA several years ago to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from adverse affects of mining.

Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program, noted that no Alaskan witnesses were called to testify, Instead the subcommittee called to testify representatives of the National Mining Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of America and two law professors from colleges in Virginia and Vermont.

HR 4854, said Bristol, “would prevent the EPA from carrying out its ability granted by the Clean Water Act to protect the world class fisheries of Bristol Bay.”

Robert Heyano, a veteran commercial fisherman from Dillingham who is president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said his organization was “frustrated and disappointed that no Bristol Bay residents were invited to testify at the committee meeting as they discuss upsetting the effort we requested to help protect our salmon and livelihood when the state of Alaska turned its back on us.

“The state elected to pursue short-term industry profit over the desires of thousands of Alaska Natives who depend on healthy Bristol Bay fisheries for subsistence and livelihood. Now members of Congress are attempting to follow suit and remove our last hope of saving our salmon from short-sighted mining in our home waters,” Heyano said.

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