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Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. Mr. Chairman, this is an amendment, I believe, that common sense would allow us to work together and pass.
This amendment would simply maintain the current deadline that existed under the previous administration of 90 days under the Clean Air Act by striking section 503 of the bill which artificially limits agency comment periods on water quality permits to 30 days with no possibility of extension. This existed under President Bush's administration.
Why, then, would my friends on the other side of the aisle not join with me to say let's have regular order? Let's ensure that we give everyone a reasonable opportunity for a response on their quality of life.
On the surface, the intent of H.R. 3409 appears to be to prevent the Interior Department from revising a Bush administration midnight regulation that significantly weakened mountaintop protections on the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. Let me remind you, they did not alter the comment period. Mountaintop removal mining, as many of us know, is a very challenging, environmentally difficult process. For many, they say, it creates jobs.
What we are trying to do is to ensure that there is a balance between that industry and, as well, the fairness of allowing those to be able to comment. As it's presently drafted, this bill would reach, in fact, it would make it much more difficult, if you will, to deal with the question of rulemaking.
The people in the State of Texas and the city of Houston appreciate the ability to drink cool, fresh water. So does everyone else. The idea of not being able to comment on the impact of this particular process is challenging.
I ask my colleagues to consider the importance of coming together and extending, or going back to, the 90-day comment period to balance, if you will, the timeframe and to ensure that all are heard on any aspects that would impact the environment, impact the environment of this particular procedure.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. Mr. Chairman, let me just clarify what is happening with this legislation. It eliminates the EPA's authority to apply minimum Federal water quality standards sufficient to protect human and aquatic life, and it is weaker than State standards in many places. It strips the EPA's authority to object to the State discharge permits that fail to meet Clean Air Act requirements.
Now, this is not about creating jobs, Mr. Chairman. I ask, on the names of our children yet unborn, to be able to have a quality of life, quality of water and quality of air that the requirements that they are trying to eliminate in this bill, the proponent of this bill, to the extent that they will narrow the comment period to 30 days rather than 90 days.
Why is that not a simple request if my good friend could not say, Congresswoman, we support the amendment. I hope that's what he will say. The difficulty that I have is I would rather, Mr. Chairman, be doing Medicare, tax breaks, jobs, urgent priorities that are needed.
I just ask for a little bit of consideration on recognizing that the Nation is better when we have provided a quality of life for all Americans. Who are we to speak of the needs of the people who have coal in their region? What we have asked is that we put in the four parameters of common sense and reasonableness.
My amendment is that. It expands back to its regular order the existing comment period, Mr. Chairman, to 90 days. It strikes the provision, and this bill that limits it to 30 days.
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Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas. I ask my colleagues to support the Jackson Lee amendment that speaks to the health and good quality of life for all Americans and America's children.
I yield back the balance of my time.
CLEAN WATER ACT DEADLINE STUDY AMENDMENT
I rise today and ask my colleagues to support my amendment to H.R. 3409 which would simply maintain the current deadline of 90 days under the Clean Water Act, by striking Section 503 of the bill which artificially limits agency comment periods on water quality permits to 30 days with no possibility of extension.
On the surface the intent of H.R. 3409 appears to be to prevent the Interior Department from revising a Bush Administration midnight regulation that significantly weakened protections on the destructive practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining. Mountaintop Removal Mining is one the most environmentally destructive practices on earth, which has fouled water quality and destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams since 1992.
However, H.R. 3409 is drafted so that its reach would in fact be much broader than just this one rulemaking. The people in the State of Texas and the city of Houston appreciate the ability to drink cool fresh water which, at its core, is what the Clean Water Act is designed to do. This legislation goes all the way back to 1948 because pollution of the nation's surface waters was a very serious problem. And Mr. Speaker, it still is today.
Title V of H.R. 3409 eliminates EPA's authority to apply minimum federal water quality standards sufficient to protect human health and aquatic life, if weaker state standards are in place. It strips EPA's authority to object to state discharge permits that fail to meet Clean Water Act requirements.
And it limits EPA's ability to protect waterways from harm from mountaintop removal coal mining, repealing EPA's authority to veto a ``valley fill'' permit based on environmental concerns and limiting the time environmental agencies have to comment to the Army Corps of Engineers on the environmental impacts of a proposed valley fill.
H.R. 3409 would prevent the Secretary of the Interior from issuing any regulation under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) through December 31, 2013, if the regulation would, among other things, prohibit coal mining in any area, reduce employment in coal mines, or reduce coal production.
The principal law governing pollution of the nation's surface waters is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Clean Water Act. Originally enacted in 1948, it was totally revised by amendments in 1972 that gave the act its current shape. The 1972 legislation spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvement that have since been expanded and are still being implemented by industries and municipalities. In fact Mr. Chairman I would dare say that most Americans take clean water for granted.
The Clean Water Act consists of two major parts, one being the provisions which authorize federal financial assistance for municipal sewage treatment plant construction. The other is the regulatory requirements that apply to industrial and municipal dischargers. The act has been termed a technology-forcing statute because of the rigorous demands placed on those who are regulated by it to achieve higher and higher levels of pollution abatement under deadlines specified in the law.
Early on, emphasis was on controlling discharges of conventional pollutants, for example, suspended solids or bacteria that are biodegradable and occur naturally in the aquatic environment, while control of toxic pollutant discharges has been a key focus of water quality programs more recently.
My colleagues Mr. Markey of Massachusetts and Mr. Waxman of California have done an excellent job detailing many of the harms that H.R. 3409 would do. It bears repeating though, that Title V of H.R. 3409 contains H.R. 2018, which severely limits EPA's authority to apply minimum national standards to protect the nation's waters from pollution.
Title V prevents EPA from strengthening weak state water quality standards, unless the state concurs, even if the water quality standard is insufficient to protect human health or aquatic life. It also strips EPA's authority to enforce discharge limits by prohibiting the agency from objecting to state discharge permits that fail to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA, this title would ``overturn almost 40 years of Federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.''
In addition, the title limits EPA's ability to protect waterways from the devastating effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Mountaintop removal coal mining involves removing mountaintops to expose coal seams and disposing of the material in adjacent valleys, a process known as valley fills. This bill removes EPA's authority to veto a valley fill permit based on environmental concerns, unless the state concurs with the veto. The bill also limits the amount of time EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies have to provide comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the potential environmental impacts of a proposed valley fill operation.
Under this act, federal jurisdiction is broad, particularly regarding establishment of national standards or effluent limitations. Certain responsibilities are delegated to the states, and the act embodies a philosophy of federal-state partnership in which the federal government sets the agenda and standards for pollution abatement, while states carry out day-to-day activities of implementation and enforcement.
To achieve its objectives, the act is based on the concept that all discharges into the nation's waters are unlawful, unless specifically authorized by a permit, which is the act's principal enforcement tool. The law has civil, criminal, and administrative enforcement provisions and also permits citizen suit enforcement.
The people in the state of Texas have had a severe drought and water has become an even more sensitive topic. Indeed, in the West, Southwest, and Rocky Mountain states water management is a more prominent issue than it is in many other parts of this great nation. Given our situation in Texas I think that it is clear that we must be very careful not to upset the careful balance which scientists, engineers, and the American people have developed when managing our nation's water.
The deadlines that the Majority would like to shorten are not arbitrary but represent realistic, reasonable, and business-friendly deadlines which prudent Americans have learned to adhere to and Mr. Speaker, we do nothing by modifying those deadlines today, so I ask my colleagues to support the Jackson Lee Amendment, keeping the comment period deadlines at 90 days.
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