Report: Clean Water Act loophole corresponds to loss of wetlands

Media Contacts

Environment America Research & Policy Center

WASHINGTON, D.C.– A loophole in the Clean Water Act is correlating with a dramatic turn in loss of wetlands, putting communities at risk from damaging floods, a new report says.

The Environment America Research & Policy Center analysis, Shelter from the Storm, comes as U.S. House leaders plan two floor votes on measures that would block the Obama administration’s plan to restore protections to millions of acres of wetlands. 

“Wetlands are our first line of defense against flooding,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America Research & Policy Center and a co-author of the report. “Now, more than ever, we need the clean water rule to prevent further destruction of our vital wetlands.” 

The Clean Water Act had helped stem the loss of wetlands in the decades following its passage in 1972, and wetland acreage had even begun to increase in the early 2000’s.  But decisions in two Supreme Court cases — one brought by a Michigan developer who sought to paver over a wetland for a strip mall — left in doubt whether 20 million acres of wetlands across the country were covered under federal law.  

After those court rulings in 2001 and 2006, the trend in wetland restoration reversed, and the nation lost at least 14,000 acres of wetlands in the span of five years, according to the study. 

Last March, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to all wetlands, along with streams that feed drinking water supplies for one in three Americans. The restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and local officials. 

But developers, the oil and gas industry, and congressional leaders bitterly oppose the rule. The House’s energy and water spending bill, likely to be voted on in the House on Thursday, would block funds for implementing it. And Reps. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, have introduced a separate measure to kill the rule outright that the full House could approve as soon as Friday. 

The report released today demonstrates for 15 states how wetlands protect against flooding, the most common natural disaster in the U.S. It includes data for communities especially susceptible to flooding, including those represented by Rep. Dave Loebseck, D-Iowa, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., all of whom have voted to block the wetlands protections rule. 

“We believe in protecting our wetlands as they improve water quality, assist in flood control, provide habitat for birds and fish and only add to the recreational activities available to residents and visitors alike,” said Mayor Kelly B. Decker of Port Jervis, N.Y., in Rep. Maloney’s district.

“It’s hard to fathom how our representatives could vote against wetlands protection when our communities are so vulnerable to flooding,” said Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York.