Water Quality Bills in the Remainder of the 111th Congress Page: 4 of 10
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Water Quality Bills in the Remainder of the 111th Congress
T he Senate and House could consider a number of water quality bills some time during the
remaining days of the 11 flh Congress. As of this writing, whether legislative action will
occur, and if so, what bills might be considered, are unknown and will depend on
numerous factors. Also, whether sufficient time remains for necessary action by both the Senate
and House is highly uncertain. But recent press reports have indicated that legislators, especially
in the Senate, are seeking to gather support for several bills, possibly packaged with others
dealing with public lands and wildlife protection.1
This report describes 10 water quality bills pending in the Senate that could be considered during
the lame duck session of the 111th Congress, either individually or as a group. All of the issues
discussed below have been highlighted in recent press reports for inclusion in a package. All but
one of the bills would amend the Clean Water Act (CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), and all were
approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in recent weeks. Similar
House bills have been introduced for all but one of the Senate measures discussed in this report,
and the House has passed two of them. With the exception of legislation that focuses on
Chesapeake Bay (5. 1816, discussed below), the individual bills are not likely to be considered
controversial. Most of the other individual bills would either reauthorize existing CWA provisions
that address water quality concerns in specified geographic areas, or they would establish similar
provisions for other regions or watersheds.
The descriptions in this report are based on bills as reported by the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee, although if any of the bills were to receive further consideration,
provisions could differ from the reported version or amendments offered. Further, if the Senate or
House were to consider a group of water quality bills, the package might include more or fewer
bills, or might reflect a different approach that is currently undefined.
The CWA is the principal federal law that deals with polluting activity in the nation's surface
streams, lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters. Enacted basically in its current form in 1972 (P.L.
92-500), the law established broad water quality restoration objectives for the nation's waters.
The objectives were accompanied by statutory goals to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into
navigable waters of the United States by 1985 and to attain, wherever possible, waters deemed
"fishable and swimmable" by 1983. Programs at the federal level are administered by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); state and local governments have major day-to-day
responsibilities to implement CWA programs through standard-setting, permitting, and
enforcement. Considerable progress towards the goals of the act has been made, but long-
standing problems persist and new problems have emerged. The last major amendments to the
law were the Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-4), the most comprehensive amendments since
1972. Since the 1987 amendments, congressional committees have conducted oversight on the
law, and Congress has enacted bills addressing a number of regional water quality concerns.'
1 Paul Quinlan, "Colleagues enlist Reid's help with last-ditch push for massive water, lands, wildlife package,"
Environment and Energy Daily, December 1, 2010, http://www.eenews.net/EEDaily/print/2010/12/01/1.
2 For further background, see CRS Report RL30030, Clean Water Act: A Summary of the Law, by Claudia Copeland.
3~ For information, see CRS Report R40098, Water Quality Issues in the 111th Congress: Oversight and Implementation,
by Claudia Copeland.
Congressional Research Service1
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Copeland, Claudia. Water Quality Bills in the Remainder of the 111th Congress, report, December 3, 2010; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc817417/m1/4/: accessed July 4, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.