In what has turned into a lifelong project, Rep. Jim Oberstar is taking another stab at a landmark clean water bill.
The Minnesota Democrat said that legislation he introduced Wednesday would restore the authority of the Clean Water Act after the law was “handcuffed” by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The measure would reverse two high court decisions from 2001 and 2006 that have weakened the 1970s legislation, which Oberstar had a hand in drafting as an aide to his predecessor in the 8th Congressional District, DFLer John Blatnik.
The court rulings cut back on the authority of the Clean Water Act to regulate lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands, calling into question the impact on local governments, developers, and agricultural interests. According to Oberstar, this has inhibited the feds’ ability to protect water quality in Minnesota and across the nation.
“We have 10,000 lakes in Minnesota; 40 percent of all the lakes and streams covered by the Clean Water Act remain in danger or polluted,” said Oberstar. “I don’t want 4,000 lakes in Minnesota to be exposed to the danger of pollution.”
Oberstar said his aim is to restore the broad authority of the original 1972 bill. “There were no limits on the number of streams, lakes or shorelines to be protected,” he said. “It just said ‘the waters of the United States.’”
Oberstar introduced a similar bill in the previous Congress, but got stalled by a veto threat from the Bush White House. Apparently, he likes his chances better under the Obama administration.
If he wins passage, he said the new regulatory regimen will look a lot like the old one. “Simply put, if it was not regulated before 2001, it will not be regulated with the enactment of this legislation,” said Oberstar.
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The DFLer said he was encouraged to run.