Minnesota's U.S. senators need to stand firm against a bill that would gut key safeguards.
In Minnesota, protecting lakes, rivers and streams against pollution is just common sense. There's apparently a different view in the alternate reality also known as Washington, D.C. Newly clarified federal protections to keep the nation's waterways drinkable, swimmable and fishable have generated ridiculous rhetoric and, more alarmingly, knee-jerk legislation with unfortunate congressional momentum.
Minnesota's Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken should vote no if Senate legislation that could nullify these modernized safeguards comes up for the floor vote, something expected this summer.
The updated regulations are known collectively as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Rule. The rule has been derided by House Speaker John Boehner as a "raw and tyrannical power grab" that would put a big chunk of Americans "on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.'' Others, such as Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, the Senate bill's sponsor, recently warned that bureaucrats will believe they control all of the nation's water if the Clean Water Rule isn't thwarted.
The truth is that the rule is intended to restore the expansive pollution protections that were in place for nearly three decades as part of the 1972 Clean Water Act. This landmark legislation was signed into law by a Republican president and was enforced by subsequent administrations, including former President Ronald Reagan's, without "regulatory and economic hell" laying waste to the country. The law is widely credited with ending a less-enlightened era when rivers started on fire or were choked with sewage and industrial waste.
Rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 and 2006 muddied the law's jurisdiction over which waterways the law applies to, raising questions specifically about wetlands and smaller streams that are connected to major rivers or lakes. The Clean Water Rule, finalized this spring, would restore the law's protections to these critical water bodies, which are connected to waterways that supply drinking water for an estimated 117 million Americans.
Some of the nation's most powerful special interests — including agriculture, developers and oil companies — oppose the regulations. Legislation championed by Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania to block the new rule recently cleared the U.S. House. Barrasso's bill, which also panders to these industries, has made disturbing headway in the Senate. The legislation, disingenuously named the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, recently passed through a key committee and could be headed for a floor vote. A spokeswoman said Barrasso "will look for any opportunity to pass this bill into law — including opportunities to attach it to must-pass legislation."
Klobuchar and Franken have said they are opposed to Barrasso's bill. But they are likely under immense pressure from powerful industries' lobbyists to weaken the Clean Water Rule. The senators' support for clean water is commendable, but it won't mean much if they don't stand firm in their opposition to the Barrasso bill.