Carper statement at EPW hearing on Navigable Waters Protection Rule, Clean Water Act
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, gave the opening statement at the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing titled “Stakeholder Reactions: The Navigable Waters Protection Rule under the Clean Water Act,” held Sept. 16.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” said Carper. “I appreciate the opportunity afforded by this hearing to discuss the role of the federal government in protecting our nation’s waters and in providing our states and businesses with certainty and predictability.
“Throughout the Delmarva Peninsula, you can find something called ‘whale wallows,’” said Carper. “These shallow, freshwater depressions dot and weave through the landscape of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland and my state of Delaware. Believed by some to be shallow imprints made by ancient whales that were beached by great biblical floods, today, these iconic wetlands are most commonly known as the Delmarva Bays. They are home to the greatest diversity of plant and animal species on the Peninsula, many of which are rare, even endangered. These wetlands are also attractive rest stops for pollinators and migratory birds alike.”
“These unique wetlands also act as a natural filter, helping to reduce high levels of nutrients and sediments in the soil that result from agricultural production in nearby communities,” said Carper. “For decades, as generations of Delmarva farmers have produced the poultry and crops that feed our nation, this natural filtration system has helped to keep harmful pollutants out of our estuaries, including the Chesapeake Bay.
“Sadly, on April 22 of this year, all of these treasured waters throughout the Delmarva ecosystem lost federal protections under the Clean Water Act — protection that, for years, ensured no one could legally dredge them, fill them or otherwise degrade them without a permit,” said Carper. “Having relied on federal protection, Delaware does not have a law on the books that prevents anyone from altering or destroying these resources. And now, the Delmarva Bays — those legendary whale wallows that provide important habitats, filter harmful nutrients and act as a flood barrier against worsening coastal storms — can be dredged, developed or otherwise degraded without consequence.”
“The high mountain wetlands of Colorado known as ‘fens’ now face a similar fate, as does Crater Lake in Oregon, nearly 90% of the river miles in New Mexico and hundreds of thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across our country,” said Carper.
“Protecting our nation’s waters and ensuring clean water for all has long been a shared responsibility between the states and the federal government,” said Carper. “However, Congress gave EPA a clear directive in the Clean Water Act to ensure the, quote, ‘chemical, biological and physical’ health of our waters. The Trump administration’s rule represents a total abdication of that responsibility. We know from the extraordinary science, including more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies that served as the foundation of the Obama-era rule, that these water bodies are critically interconnected.”
“When snow melts or rain falls, eventually the water in the farthest upper reaches of our river systems will flow downward, downhill and feed into our rivers and oceans,” said Carper. “When these waters flow — no matter for how long or how frequently — they will carry every leaf, twig, bit of dirt and pollutant they meet along the way. Now that these headwaters can be developed or degraded without consequence, this rule will ensure more pollution and higher costs for families and businesses everywhere, especially those in disadvantaged communities located downstream, which will see higher utility bills as a result. At the same time, the rivers and streams now left unprotected feed into drinking water sources for more than 100 million Americans — jeopardizing clean water for approximately one in three Americans.”
“It’s worth asking who truly benefits from federal rules that allow industrial facilities, mining operations and animal feedlots to spill their waste into our nation’s headwaters and streams,” said Carper. “Certainly, it’s not our farmers located downstream, who will need to install water treatment facilities to have clean water to raise healthy crops and livestock. It’s certainly not our fishermen and hunters, who will see the quality of outdoor recreation decline.”
“Despite the Trump administration’s promises otherwise, states are not the real winners of this rule, either — far from it,” said Carper. “For many reasons — including the hardship brought by the COVID pandemic, most states are unable to step up and cover the costs associated with losing federal protections of these waters. As we’ll hear in greater detail shortly, New Mexico just lost its only protection for almost 90% of its stream miles, and right now, New Mexico is one of several states with no law, no funding and not enough staff to handle this huge influx of ‘orphaned’ waterways.”
“As a former state treasurer and recovering governor, I don’t see how most states will be able to devote additional resources to shoulder this new burden, especially given the budgetary challenges posed by the pandemic,” said Carper. “To complicate those financial challenges, 27 states have laws on the books that limit — if not prohibit — taking actions that are more stringent than federal regulations.”
“For years, the Trump administration promised its proposal would provide greater clarity for our constituents,” said Carper. “Clearly, that was a false promise. Instead, this rule has created more uncertainty and higher costs for states, communities and families, while putting the drinking water for more than 100 million Americans at risk. At no time is this the right thing to do, and it’s surely not now.”