Peoria Journal Star

January 11, 2003

President solicits input on Clean Water Act 
Some say move aims to undermine law 


By DORI MEINERT 
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a move environmentalists say
is aimed at weakening the Clean Water Act, the Bush
administration Friday said it is seeking public input on a
broad range of the 30-year-old law's provisions. 

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the action - the
first step in the rule-making process - is a necessary
response to a January 2001 Supreme Court ruling in a
case out of Cook County, Ill. The Supreme Court ruled
that "isolated wetlands" were not covered under the
migratory birds provisions of the Clean Water Act. 

The EPA also issued legal guidance to its field offices
aimed at clearing up confusion over how to interpret
that court ruling. But several environmentalists say it
further muddied the waters. 

"The practical effect of this for Illinois is to create
greater uncertainty," said Albert Ettinger, staff
attorney with the Chicago-based Environmental Law
and Policy Center who also represents the Illinois
chapter of the Sierra Club. "The people who wish to
slack off and not regulate will have greater uncertainty
as a cover for not doing the job." 

But EPA officials insisted the Bush administration
remains committed to a policy of "no net loss" of
wetlands. The president will ask Congress for a $5
million increase, bringing to $20 million the funding
available to help states develop wetland programs. 

"We are committed to protecting America's wetlands
and watersheds to the full extent under the Clean
Water Act and the recent Supreme Court ruling," said
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman in a statement
issued by her office. "We also are committed to full
public involvement in this process and we will seek
additional information and scientific data for possible
rule making." 

Whitman was at an event in Chicago and not available
for the wetlands announcement. 

The EPA's action didn't go as far as environmentalists
in recent weeks had warned. They had predicted the
agency would issue proposed rules redefining which
bodies of water are to be protected under the Clean
Water Act, as EPA officials indicated in testimony on
Capitol Hill last fall. 

However, environmentalists said the EPA's action
Friday was a step in that direction. 

"It's still very troubling that they're considering
removing such protections down the road," said Beth
Wentzel, watershed scientist with Prairie Rivers
Network, based in Champaign. 

"Essentially, the question they're asking is: "Is it
appropriate to remove any waters from protection of
the Clean Water Act?' To me, the answer is quite
clear. No, it's not appropriate. They all have their
ecological function." 

Ettinger said the EPA's action heightens the need for
the Illinois Legislature to approve its own wetland
protection program. Illinois, like most states, relies on
the federal Clean Water Act for regulating the
destruction of wetlands. The Illinois House narrowly
defeated such a bill last spring. It was opposed by
home builders and Realtors.