Skip to primary navigation Skip to content
November 29, 2017

Ranking Member Bonamici Opening Statement for the Future of WOTUS Hearing

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Environment is holding a hearing titled, “The Future of the WOTUS Rule: Examining the Role of States.”

Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici’s, (D-OR) opening statement for the record is below.

Mr. Chairman, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the Chesapeake Bay; Americans want the waters of the United States to be safeguarded from harmful pollutants. They want this protection because our national ecosystem is interconnected, and what happens upstream is going to influence what happens downstream, especially to drinking water.

Clean water is essential for our survival, and humanity has been dealing with issues related to access to clean water since the dawn of civilization. The needs of individual states are far more similar than they are different. The Clean Water Act exists, in part, because there was a time when states had primary responsibility for keeping waters within their state clean and safe. Unfortunately, many of those states were not able to meet that responsibility, and Americans watched as some of those waters became dirty and polluted, and others caught on fire.

Back in 1972, amendments to the Clean Water Act redefined the waters covered under the Act to include “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.”  But court opinions addressing which bodies of water fit that definition have been inconsistent. The genesis of the Clean Water Rule comes from the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States, in which the Court did not reach a majority decision about what constitutes a water of the United States.  The result of that decision was confusion.

And the purpose of the rule is to minimize confusion by clarifying the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

After the Rapanos case but prior to the Rule, the EPA released a report titled, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” Mr. Chairman, I ask for unanimous consent to enter the executive summary of this report into the record.

The report reviewed more than 1,200 publications from peer-reviewed scientific literature and the report itself went through two separate independent peer-reviews. The report drew five major conclusions, which provided initial support for the Clean Water Rule. One conclusion was:

“The scientific literature unequivocally demonstrates that streams, individually, or cumulatively, exert a strong influence on the integrity of downstream waters. All tributary streams, including perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, are physically, chemically, and biologically connected to downstream rivers…”

As Mr. Kopocis explains in his testimony, before the Waters of the US rule was finalized in May of 2015, the EPA received more than 1 million public comments and held more than 400 public meetings.

And though some suggest that, despite past performance, states, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, should conserve America’s waterways, watersheds, rivers, lakes, and streams. In response to such a suggestion in the Rapanos case, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, said, “The fact that the States have the power and the interest does not necessarily mean that the Federal Government does not also have the power.”

I don’t want to return to a time when our waters were dirty, polluted, and even caught on fire, and I know our constituents don’t want that either.  It is for that very reason that we also need to hear not just from the witnesses here today but also from representatives who are currently at the EPA. This committee must meet its oversight responsibility and question the EPA about this issue and other actions they are taking. The quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink is too important. This committee has a responsibility to keep the EPA accountable to the American people. Mr. Chairman, I ask for unanimous consent to enter into the record a letter signed by members of the Science Committee requesting that Chairman Smith invite EPA Administrator Pruitt to testify before our Committee as soon as possible. In addition, I would like to enter into the record Chairman Smith’s response to the request, stating that that a hearing request is underway. I urge Chairman Smith, Chairman Biggs, and the EPA to schedule this hearing quickly. The American people have an ownership stake in their environment, and they deserve to know what Administrator Pruitt’s plans are for the EPA.

Thank you. I yield back.

Related Subcommittees