Amended Clean Water Bill Approved by Senate Committee

June 19, 2009 Bookmark and Share

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Clean Water Restoration Act, S. 787, on a party-line vote Thursday after accepting an amendment meant to make the bill less onerous on the agriculture industry.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and co-sponsored by Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), was intended to limit the original scope of the bill by clarifying that it could not expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act beyond the scope originally intended by Congress.

The amendment would also codify the exemption for prior converted cropland, which now exists only in federal rules; ensure that the existing permitting exemptions for agriculture in the CWA remain intact; and require that any rulemaking be completely consistent with the traditional scope of the statute.

The underlying bill, S. 787, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), comes in response to a number of Supreme Court rulings that have complicated the definition of the “navigable waters of the United States,” over which the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers have authority. Feingold’s bill would clarify the law but also expand CWA jurisdiction by eliminating the word “navigable” from that definition.

The future of the bill is unclear. Democratic leaders have indicated they believe the bill as amended is a good compromise, while Republicans on the Committee and many in industry are strongly opposed to the bill. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has reportedly placed a hold on the bill.

Last week, NAWG wrote Baucus to express preference for his amendment over the original bill language and reiterate the organization’s opposition to removing the term “navigable” from Clean Water Act language, a position held by many mainstream agricultural organizations. For the full letter, please visit