April 29, 2016 by William Andreen

Climate Change Increases Need for Reform of Nonpoint Source Pollution and Stream Flow Approaches

The Clean Water Act has been a success in many ways. The discharge of pollutants from both industrial and municipal point sources has plummeted, the loss of wetlands has been cut decisively, and water quality has improved broadly across the entire nation. Despite all of that progress, many of our waters remain impaired. The primary reason for this lies in the failure of the Clean Water Act to effectively tackle two significant sources of water pollution: nonpoint source pollution (diffuse runoff from, for example, fields and logging operations) and hydrologic modifications (such as water withdrawals and dams).

In contrast to the Act’s approach to point source discharges and the loss of wetlands, Congress left control of both nonpoint source pollution and hydrological modifications primarily in state hands. While some states have responded well to the challenge, most have not been up to the task. New approaches are needed to deal more effectively and more comprehensively with both problems, the magnitude of which is staggering: over 40,000 nonpoint source-impaired waters and thousands of flow-impaired water bodies.

Climate change will exacerbate both problems. Heavier rainfall events have been increasingly common all across the nation, and this trend will likely intensify …

May 1, 2014 by William Andreen

On April 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed rulemaking to clarify the jurisdictional reach of the protections afforded by the Clean Water Act of 1972.  The Clean Water Act is the foundation of our nation’s effort to restore and maintain the biological, chemical, and physical integrity of our water resources.  While the jurisdictional reach of the Act was well defined and well understood for nearly forty years, two Supreme Court cases in the early 2000s (SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States) created confusion and added complexity to the determination of which streams and which wetlands were subject to Clean Water Act protection.  The proposed rulemaking responds to the need, articulated by the regulated community and others, to provide clarity amidst the uncertainty generated by the cases.  It …

Oct. 9, 2012 by William Andreen

This post is first in a series marking the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

On October 18th, the nation will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.  This landmark piece of legislation has proven remarkably successful.  Water pollution discharges from both industry and municipal sewer systems have declined sharply, the loss of wetlands has been cut decisively, and water quality has broadly improved across the country.  The Clean Water Act is, in short, a real success story.  It stands as a tribute to the foresight of those in Congress who passed it, as well as to the men and women in both state and federal regulatory agencies who have worked so hard, and for so long, to restore the integrity of our nation’s waters.

The Act, however, is showing its age.  Twenty-five years have passed since it was last amended …

May 2, 2011 by William Andreen

During the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions that greatly reduced the extent of waters protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA). These cases upset the clearly articulated regulatory definition of “waters of the United States” that had been consistently applied and widely accepted as valid for many years.   Not only did the decisions threaten millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of headwaters with destruction and unregulated pollutant discharges, but the most significant of the two was issued by a badly fractured Court, producing a great deal of confusion over which waters are regulated and which ones are not.  

In the SWANCC case (2001), the Supreme Court held that CWA jurisdiction could not be based on the presence of migratory birds at isolated, non-navigable, intrastate ponds.  In the second case, Rapanos (2006), the Court addressed the CWA’s application to wetlands …

Oct. 26, 2010 by William Andreen

Since my post last week ("Convictions for Violations of the Clean Water Act Continue to Ebb"), a number of significant things have occurred. On October 20, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Cynthia Giles, announced that the Director of the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training was retiring and that the Director of the Criminal Investigation Division had decided to pursue new challenges within the agency. In addition to this personnel shake-up, Assistant Administrator Giles has pledged to hire 40 more criminal investigators at EPA. The number of investigators had fallen from 205 in 2003 to approximately 160. The agency appears, therefore, to be committed to reinvigorating what seems to have been, at least until recently, a lagging criminal enforcement effort. 

In response to a reporter’s inquiry prompted by my post, EPA disputed TRAC Reports' projection of convictions that would be …

Oct. 19, 2010 by William Andreen

According to the latest data published by TRAC Reports, the number of federal convictions obtained for violations of the Clean Water Act during fiscal year 2010 has continued to follow a recent downward trajectory. Since reaching a high of nearly 70 in FY 1998, the number of convictions has continued to decline toward what may be its lowest level since the early 1990s. During the first ten months of FY 2010, the Department of Justice reported 23 convictions, a pace that would produce 28 convictions for the entire fiscal year—a decline of  60 percent since FY 1998.

This is a disturbing trend since vigorous enforcement activity is a critical component of any credible environmental protection program. Convictions alone, however, do not necessarily reveal how effective a criminal enforcement program may be. A strategic decision to pursue tougher, higher quality cases rather than run-of-the-mill cases would likely …

Sept. 16, 2009 by William Andreen

Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws included a shocking example of how a regulatory gap in the Clean Water Act can harm public health. For example, the article referred to water supplies in parts of the Farm Belt that are contaminated by dangerous levels of pesticides, which originate with agricultural runoff and cannot be corrected by enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Although the Act provides a comprehensive regulatory program for point source discharges of pollution — discharges from pipes and other discernible conveyances — it does not directly regulate generalized runoff from farms, forestry activities, overflowing septic tanks, parking lots, and mining operations, something that is generally referred to as nonpoint source water pollution. As a result, nonpoint source pollution, especially from agriculture, has become the chief impediment to achieving national water quality objectives. Water pollution from nonpoint sources dwarfs …

Sept. 15, 2009 by William Andreen

Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws came as a timely reminder that, no matter how well articulated our environmental laws may be, it takes consistent, vigorous enforcement to ensure compliance with these statutory regimes. Unfortunately, as the article illustrates, state and federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act has languished during the past decade. Not only have governmental resources been inadequate, but all too often the will to enforce the law has been absent. Although water pollution violations often pose grave hazards to public health, the political climate in many state capitals seems to have favored polluters, even those who repeatedly violate the law, and the U.S. EPA appears to have been unwilling, at least up until the current administration perhaps, to force these recalcitrant states to perform their duties under the Clean Water Act.

While the article …

  • 1 (current)
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 29, 2016

Climate Change Increases Need for Reform of Nonpoint Source Pollution and Stream Flow Approaches

May 1, 2014

“Waters of the United States” - Myths and Facts Surrounding the New Proposed Rule from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers

Oct. 9, 2012

The Clean Water Act at 40: Finishing a Task Well Begun

May 2, 2011

EPA and the Corps of Engineers Deserve Praise for Their Draft Guidance on the Jurisdictional Scope of the Clean Water Act

Oct. 26, 2010

Update: EPA Releases Full FY 2010 Stats on CWA Convictions

Oct. 19, 2010

Convictions for Violations of the Clean Water Act Continue to Ebb

Sept. 16, 2009

One More Point on the N.Y. Times Water Article -- the Problem of Nonpoint Source Pollution