The following is the opening statement of Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) from today's Subcommittee hearing to examine the potential for states to assume the lead role under the Clean Water Act dredge or fill (wetlands) permit program, also known as the section 404 permit program:
"I would like to welcome everyone to our hearing today on the potential opportunities for enhancing cooperative federalism with the states through state assumption of the Clean Water Act section 404 permit program.
"I note that next month will be the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. When Congress wrote the Clean Water Act, it did not contemplate having a single, federally-dominated water quality program. Rather, Congress intended the states and EPA to implement the Clean Water Act as a federal-state partnership, where the states and EPA act as co-regulators. This is the essence of "cooperative federalism.'
"While the states have played an integral role in implementing many parts of the Clean Water Act over the past 40 years, including water quality standards and NPDES permitting, there is an important program under the Clean Water Act that remains predominantly administered by the federal government. This is the dredge or fill wetlands permit program under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
"While some 46 states have primary responsibility for implementing the NPDES permit program, only two states have assumed administration of the 404 permit program. This is despite the fact that, as I understand it, there are numerous states that are interested in assuming the program.
"State assumption of section 404 gives a state the lead role in evaluating and issuing permits. This can eliminate a significant amount of state and federal duplication and result in increased program efficiency and consistency in permit decisions. It also can help ensure that state-specific needs and conditions are more directly addressed.
"States know best what their issues are and how to address them. I want to hear why more states have not assumed the 404 program. Specifically, I want to hear about what are the barriers that are holding states back from assuming the program? And what statutory or other impediments, if any, are standing in the way of making this program an effective federal-state partnership? The aim of the hearing today is fact-finding, so we can learn more about the state assumption issue.
"We have assembled two panels of witnesses, including the two federal agencies responsible for section 404 permitting and several state representatives who will share their perspectives on state assumption of this program."