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Sportsmen’s groups, industry oppose House bill to undermine America’s clean water

"The proposed Clean Water Rule is a common-sense way to better protect habitat for thousands of species of fish and birds."

Photo by Lew CarpenterPhoto by Lew Carpenter

By  Lacey McCormick

WASHINGTON -- Sporting groups representing a full spectrum of anglers and hunters from all across America announced their opposition Monday to the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, which is being considered by the House today. If signed into law, this bill would jeopardize Clean Water Act protections for important fish and game habitat, including millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams.

“Plain and simple, a vote for this bill today is a vote against America’s sportsmen and women who depend on wetlands and headwater streams to provide the highest quality fishing and hunting opportunities,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of government affairs.

The House voted 262 to 152 Monday afternoon to pass the bill. 

“Right now, two million miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands are stuck in a legal limbo, leaving the nation’s waters in jeopardy," said Jan Goldman-Carter, the National Wildlife Federation's senior manager of wetlands and water resources. “In the face of toxic algae outbreaks, dead zones, and chemical spills threatening our water supplies, we expect more of our members of Congress than staging political theatre, spreading misinformation, and pandering to industry lobbyists to undermine clean water protections.”  

Water quality in limbo

Prompted by a series of Supreme Court decisions and stakeholder requests, the Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers are currently undergoing a public rulemaking process to clarify which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act. These waters include seasonally flowing intermittent and ephemeral streams and certain “isolated” wetlands, all of which contribute to water quality and provide fish and game habitat. The rule has no impact on farm ponds, farm ditches or “mud puddles,” as some in the House have claimed in recent weeks. Claims like that fuel the partisan divide and amount to little more than political theater.

“From toxic drinking water in Toledo to the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve seen a number of serious water quality problems this summer that demand solutions. The proposed Clean Water Rule is a common-sense way to better protect the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans and improve the habitat for thousands of species of fish and birds. Rather than undoing 40 years of progress under the Clean Water Act, we urge Congress to work with anglers, hunters, wildlife watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts to improve water quality in ways that will create billions of dollars of economic benefits nationwide and expand outdoor recreational opportunities for tens of millions of Americans," said Collin O'Mara, NWF's president and CEO.

The rule is currently subject to public comments, and members of the House can comment on the bill just like any other American.

“In the years since the Supreme Court decisions, we’ve seen the first increase in the rate of wetlands loss in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  “Passing this bill and halting the proposed rule risks continued loss of wetlands such as the prairie potholes, America’s most important waterfowl breeding habitat.”

Bad for wildlife, recreation, people

The recreation economy is a growing player in this discussion. As Moyer said, the bill is bad for sportsmen’s interests and for the industry surrounding outdoor recreation.

“Our goal is to promote the sustained growth of the fly fishing industry,” said Ben Bulis, president and executive director of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “That can’t be accomplished without clean water in our rivers and streams across the country. As a nation, if we fail to protect our streams and wetlands, we could destroy the $200 billion hunting and fishing industry that supports over 1.5 million jobs. These jobs depend on clean water for quality fishing.”

Joining Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association were B.A.S.S., Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, The Berkley Conservation Institute, The International Federation of Fly Fishers, The Snook and Gamefish Foundation, The North American Grouse Partnership, the American Fisheries Society and the Izaak Walton League of America in sending a letter to the House of Representatives. The letter opposed this legislation and recommended that the House work through the public process to address potential concerns with the rulemaking without derailing this much needed clarification.

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