Water Quality Issues in the 110th Congress: Oversight and Implementation
Water Quality Issues in the 110 Congress:
Oversight and Implementation
Updated November 25, 2008
Specialist in Resource and Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Water Quality Issues in the 110 Congress:
Oversight and Implementation
Although much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that
Congress established more than 35 years ago in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to
restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s
waters, long-standing problems persist, and new problems have emerged. Water
quality problems are diverse, ranging from pollution runoff from farms and ranches,
city streets, and other diffuse or “nonpoint” sources, to toxic substances discharged
from factories and sewage treatment plants.
There is little agreement among stakeholders about what solutions are needed
and whether new legislation is required to address the nation’s remaining water
pollution problems. Several key water quality issues exist: evaluating actions to
implement existing provisions of the law, assessing whether additional steps are
necessary to achieve overall goals of the act that have not yet been attained, ensuring
that progress made to date is not lost through diminished attention to water quality
needs, and defining the appropriate federal role in guiding and paying for clean water
infrastructure and other activities. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend
the CWA have stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to change
the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on enacting narrow bills
to extend or modify selected CWA programs, but not any comprehensive proposals.
For several years, the most prominent legislative water quality issue has
concerned financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment projects, and it has
been in focus in the 110th Congress, as well: the House passed three bills dealing with
wastewater infrastructure financing (H.R. 720, H.R. 700, and H.R. 569), and the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved another, S. 3500. At
issue is how the federal government will assist states and cities in meeting needs to
rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants, especially in light of capital
costs that are projected to be as much as $390 billion.
Also of interest have been programs that regulate activities in wetlands,
especially CWA Section 404, which has been criticized by landowners for intruding
on private land-use decisions and imposing excessive economic burdens.
Environmentalists view these programs as essential for maintaining the health of
wetland ecosystems, and they are concerned about court rulings that narrowed
regulatory protection of wetlands and about related administrative actions. Many
stakeholders desire clarification of the act’s regulatory jurisdiction, but they differ on
what solutions are appropriate. In the 110th Congress, committees held hearings on
legislation that seeks to provide that clarification (H.R. 2421, S. 1870).
Other issues discussed in this report that also have been of interest in Congress
include implementation of current programs to manage stormwater discharges and
nonpoint sources of pollution, as these are major contributors to water quality
impairments across the country; implementation of rules governing discharges of
wastes from large animal feeding operations; and implications of court rulings for the
scope of the act’s discharge permit requirements.
In troduction ......................................................1
Congressional Activity after P.L. 100-4............................2
Legislative Issues in the 110th Congress................................4
Authorization of Water Infrastructure Funding.......................5
Regulatory Protection of Wetlands...............................12
Regulating Discharges from Vessels..............................16
Extension of the Great Lakes Legacy Act..........................17
Other Clean Water Act Issues...................................18
Implementation of the BEACH Act...........................18
Combined and Separate Sewer Overflows......................20
Nonpoint Pollution Management.............................22
Strategy Concerning Animal Feeding Operations................23
Other Implementation Issues................................24
Continuing Issue: Appropriations....................................25
List of Tables
Table 1. Wastewater Treatment Funding...............................7
Water Quality Issues in the 110 Congress:
Oversight and Implementation
Although much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that
Congress established 30-plus years ago to restore and maintain the chemical,
physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters, long-standing problems
persist, and new problems have emerged. Water quality problems are diverse,
ranging from pollution runoff from farms and ranches, city streets, and other diffuse
or “nonpoint” sources, to “point” source discharges of metals and organic and
inorganic toxic substances from factories and sewage treatment plants.
The principal law that deals with polluting activity in the nation’s streams, lakes,
estuaries, and coastal waters is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (P.L. 92-500,
enacted in 1972), commonly known as the Clean Water Act, or CWA. It consists of
two major parts: regulatory provisions that impose progressively more stringent
requirements on industries and cities to abate pollution and meet the statutory goal
of zero discharge of pollutants; and provisions that authorize federal financial
assistance for municipal wastewater treatment plant construction. Both parts are
supported by research activities, plus permit and enforcement provisions. Programs
at the federal level are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
state and local governments have major responsibilities to implement CWA
programs through standard-setting, permitting, and enforcement.1
The water quality restoration objective declared in the 1972 act was
accompanied by statutory goals to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into
navigable waters by 1985 and to attain, wherever possible, waters deemed “fishable
and swimmable” by 1983. Although those goals have not been fully achieved,
considerable progress has been made, especially in controlling conventional
pollutants (suspended solids, bacteria, and oxygen-consuming materials) discharged
by industries and sewage treatment plants.
Progress has been mixed in controlling discharges of toxic pollutants (heavy
metals, inorganic and organic chemicals), which are more numerous and can harm
human health and the environment even when present in very small amounts — at
the parts-per-billion level. Moreover, efforts to control pollution from diffuse
sources, termed nonpoint source pollution (rainfall runoff from urban, suburban, and
agricultural areas, for example), are more recent, given the earlier emphasis on “point
source” pollution (discharges from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment
plants). Overall, data reported by EPA and states indicate that 45% of river and
1 For further information, see CRS Report RL30030, Clean Water Act: A Summary of the
Law, by Claudia Copeland.
stream miles assessed by states and 47% of assessed lake acres do not meet
applicable water quality standards and are impaired for one or more desired uses.2
In 2006 EPA issued an assessment of streams and small rivers and reported that 67%
of U.S. stream miles are in poor or fair condition and that nutrients and streambed
sediments have the largest adverse impact on the biological condition of these
waters.3 Approximately 95,000 lakes and 544,000 river miles in the United States
are under fish-consumption advisories (including 100% of the Great Lakes and their
connecting waters), due to chemical contaminants in lakes, rivers, and coastal waters,
and one-third of shellfishing beds are closed or restricted, due to toxic pollutant
contamination. Mercury is a contaminant of growing concern — as of 2003, 45
states had issued partial or statewide fish or shellfish consumption advisories because
of elevated mercury levels.
The last major amendments to the law were the Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L.
100-4). These amendments culminated six years of congressional efforts to extend
and revise the act and were the most comprehensive amendments since 1972.
Authorizations of appropriations for some programs provided in P.L. 100-4, such as
general grant assistance to states, research, and general EPA support authorized in
that law, expired in FY1990 and FY1991. Authorizations for wastewater treatment
funding expired in FY1994. None of these programs has lapsed, however, as
Congress has continued to appropriate funds to implement them. EPA, states,
industry, and other citizens continue to implement the 1987 legislation, including
meeting the numerous requirements and deadlines in it.
The Clean Water Act has been viewed as one of the most successful
environmental laws in terms of achieving its statutory goals, which have been widely
supported by the public, but lately some have questioned whether additional actions
to achieve further benefits are worth the costs. Criticism has come from industry,
which has been the long-standing focus of the act’s regulatory programs and often
opposes imposition of new stringent and costly requirements. Criticism also has
come from developers and property rights groups who contend that federal
regulations (particularly the act’s wetlands permit program) are a costly intrusion on
private land-use decisions. States and cities have traditionally supported water
quality programs and federal funding to assist them in carrying out the law, but many
have opposed CWA measures that they fear might impose new unfunded mandates.
Many environmental groups believe that further fine-tuning is needed to maintain
progress achieved to date and to address remaining water quality problems.
Congressional Activity after P.L. 100-4
Following enactment of amendments in 1987, no major CWA legislative
activity occurred until the 104th Congress (1995). The House approved a
comprehensive reauthorization bill, H.R. 961, that was opposed by environmentalists
and the Clinton Administration. H.R. 961 would have amended many of the
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “National Water Quality Inventory: Report to
Congress, 2002 Reporting Cycle,” EPA-841-R-07-001, October 2007, 39 p.
3 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Wadeable Streams Assessment, A Collaborative
Survey of the Nation’s Streams,” EPA 841-B-06-002, May 2006, 1 vol.
regulatory and standards provisions of the law, required EPA to use extensive new
risk assessment and cost-benefit procedures, and increased flexibility with regulatory
relief from current clean water programs. Critics said that the bill would undermine
the existing framework for protecting U.S. waters. The Senate did not take up H.R.
Since the 104th Congress, no comprehensive reauthorization legislation has been
introduced, but beginning in the 106th Congress, a number of bills dealing with
specific water quality issues and programs in the law have been enacted. Congress
first passed a bill to strengthen protection of coastal recreation waters through
upgraded water quality standards and coastal waters monitoring programs (P.L. 106-
284). Congress also passed a bill (P.L. 106-457) that reauthorized several existing
CWA programs (i.e., Chesapeake Bay cleanup, clean lakes, and the National Estuary
Program), and a bill to authorize CWA grant funding for wet weather sewerage
projects (included as a provision of the FY2001 Consolidated Appropriations bill,
The 107th Congress enacted the Great Lakes Legacy Act (P.L. 107-303). It
amended existing Great Lakes provisions (CWA Section 118) to authorize $50
million annually for FY2004-FY2008 for EPA to carry out projects to remediate
sediment contamination in the Great Lakes. The bill also reauthorized CWA
provisions concerning the Lake Champlain Basin program (Section 120).
The 108th Congress enacted legislation amending the act to extend the National
Estuary Program (NEP, CWA Section 320) through FY2010 (P.L. 108-399). The
NEP, authorized by the 1987 CWA amendments, is directed at improving the quality
of estuaries of national importance.
The 109th Congress enacted two CWA measures. In December 2005, Congress
passed H.R. 3963 (H.Rept. 109-293), authorizing $40 million per year to extend the
Long Island Sound program in Section 119 of the act for six years (through FY2010).
President Bush signed it on December 22, 2005 (P.L. 109-137). In November 2006,
Congress passed H.R. 6121, a bill to reauthorize the Lake Pontchartrain Basin
program in Section 121 of the act through FY2011. President Bush signed it on
December 12 (P.L. 109-392).
Since the 107th Congress, the dominant CWA issue has been water infrastructure
financing — i.e., extension and modification of provisions of the act authorizing
financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment projects. House and Senate
committees have approved bills, but none has been enacted, because of varied
controversies (see “Authorization of Wastewater Infrastructure Funding,” below).
In addition to the enacted legislation described here, throughout this period since the
1987 amendments, a number of bills dealing with other specific CWA programs have
been reported by House and Senate committees; some of these were passed by one
house of the Congress, but were not enacted.
The remainder of this report discusses key CWA issues that were of particular
interesting during the 110th Congress, including legislation that was introduced in
several of the areas. It first discusses issues that were most prominent on the CWA
agenda in Congress, including water infrastructure funding, regulatory protection of
wetlands, regulating wastewater discharges from vessels, and extension of the Great
Lakes Legacy Act. It then discusses several other issues of interest: stormwater
discharges, management of sewer overflows, wastewater security, management of
nonpoint sources of pollution, and regulation of waste discharges from animal
feeding operations. The report concludes with a brief discussion of appropriations
for water quality programs.
Legislative Issues in the 110th Congress
The year 2007 marked the 35th anniversary of passage of the Clean Water Act
and 20 years since the last major amendments to the law. While, as noted, there has
been measurable clean water progress as a result of the act, observers and analysts
agree that significant water pollution problems remain. However, there is less
agreement about what solutions are needed and whether new legislation is required.
Several key water quality issues exist: evaluating actions to implement existing
provisions of the law, assessing whether additional steps are necessary to achieve
overall goals of the act that have not yet been attained, ensuring that progress made
to date is not lost through diminished attention to water quality needs, and defining
the appropriate federal role in guiding and paying for clean water infrastructure and
other activities. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend the act have
stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to change the law. Many
issues that might be addressed involve making difficult tradeoffs between impacts
on different sectors of the economy, taking action when there is technical or scientific
uncertainty, and allocating governmental responsibilities for implementing the law.
These factors partly explain why Congress has recently favored focusing
legislative attention on narrow bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs,
rather than taking up comprehensive proposals. Other factors also are at work.
These include a general reluctance by most Members of Congress to address
controversial environmental issues in view of the slim majorities held by political
parties in the House and the Senate; lack of presidential initiatives on clean water
issues (neither the Clinton nor the Bush Administration proposed CWA legislation);
and, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more prominent congressional
focus on security, terrorism, and Iraq war issues than on many other topics, including
As a result of the 2006 mid-term elections and changed congressional
leadership, many observers anticipated that the 110th Congress would pursue
oversight of clean water and other environmental programs. A particular legislative
focus is water infrastructure financing legislation, specifically reauthorization of the
act’s financial aid program. Also on the congressional agenda was consideration of
the geographic reach of the Clean Water Act over the nation’s waters and wetlands,
in light of court rulings — including two Supreme Court decisions — that have
narrowed the law’s regulatory jurisdiction, but in ways that are somewhat unclear.
A number of other issues of interest included implementation of current programs to
manage stormwater discharges and nonpoint sources of pollution, as these are major
contributors to water quality impairments across the country; implementation of rules
governing discharges of wastes from large animal feeding operations; and
implications of a number of court rulings concerning the scope of the act’s discharge
Authorization of Water Infrastructure Funding
Meeting the nation’s needs to build, upgrade, rebuild, and repair wastewater
infrastructure is a significant element in achieving the Clean Water Act’s water
quality objectives. The act’s program of financial aid for municipal wastewater
treatment plant construction is a key contributor to that effort. Since 1972 Congress
has provided more than $78 billion to assist cities in constructing projects to achieve
the act’s requirements for secondary treatment of municipal sewage (equivalent to
85% reduction of wastes), or more stringent treatment where required by local water
quality conditions. State and local governments have spent more than $25 billion of
their own funds for construction, as well.
Still, funding needs remain very high: an additional $202.5 billion nationwide
for all types of projects eligible for funding under the act, according to the most
recent Needs Survey estimate by EPA and the states, released in January 2008, an
8.6% increase above the estimate reported four years ago.4 EPA reported several
reasons for increased needs: problems due to aging infrastructure, treatment plant
improvements needed to meet more protective water quality standards, and additional
capacity required to handle wet weather flows. This current estimate includes $134.4
billion for wastewater treatment and collection systems ($10.5 billion more than the
previous report), $54.8 billion for combined sewer overflow corrections ($1.5 billion
less than the previous estimate), $9 billion for stormwater management ($2.8 billion
more than the previous estimate), and $4.3 billion to build systems to distribute
recycled water (a new category in this report). The estimate does not explicitly
include funding needed to address security issues (discussed below), needs related
to growth and expansion in regions that are experiencing population growth, or
funding possibly needed for treatment works to adapt to climate change impacts.
In September 2002, EPA released a study called the Gap Analysis that assesses
the difference between current spending for wastewater infrastructure and total
funding needs (both capital and operation and maintenance).5 In that report, EPA
estimated that, over the next two decades, the United States needs to spend nearly
$390 billion to replace existing wastewater infrastructure systems and to build new
ones. Funding needs for operation and maintenance (not eligible for Clean Water
Act funding) are an additional $148 billion, the agency estimated. According to the
Gap Analysis, if there is no increase in investment, there will be about a $6 billion
gap between current annual capital expenditures for wastewater treatment ($13
billion annually) and projected spending needs of approximately $19 billion. The
study also estimated that, if wastewater spending increases by 3% annually
(essentially meaning a doubling of rates), the gap would shrink by nearly 90% (to
4 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2004, Report to
Congress, Washington, January 2008, 1 vol. Available at [http://www.epa.gov/owm/mtb/
5 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Clean Water and Drinking Water
Infrastructure Gap Analysis, September 2002, EPA 816-R-02-020, 50 p.
about $1 billion annually). At issue has been what the federal role should be in
assisting states and cities, especially in view of such high projected funding needs.
Debate over the nature of the nation’s efforts regarding wastewater
infrastructure was a central and controversial part of the 1987 amendments to the act.
The amendments extended through FY1990 the traditional Title II program of grants
for sewage treatment project construction, under which the federal share was 55% of
project costs. The 1987 law initiated a program of grants to capitalize State Water
Pollution Control Revolving Funds (SRFs), which are loan programs, in a new Title
VI. States are required to deposit an amount equal to at least 20% of the federal
capitalization grant in the Fund established under Title VI. Under the revolving fund
concept, monies used for wastewater treatment construction would be repaid by loan
recipients to the states (repayment was not required for grants under the Title II
program), to be recycled for future construction in other communities, thus providing
an ongoing source of financing. The expectation in 1987 was that the federal
contributions to SRFs would assist in making a transition to full state and local
financing by FY1995. Although most states believe that the SRF is working well,
early funding and administrative problems and continuing large funding needs have
delayed the anticipated shift to full state responsibility. Thus, SRF issues have been
prominent on the Clean Water Act reauthorization agenda in recent Congresses.6
SRF monies may be used for specified activities, including making loans for as
much as 100% of project costs (at or below market interest rates, including interest-
free loans), to buy or refinance cities’ debt obligation, or as a source of revenue or
security for payment of principal and interest on a state-issued bond. SRF monies
also may be used to provide loan guarantees or credit enhancement for localities.
Loans made by a state from its SRF are to be used first to assure progress towards the
goals of the act and, in particular, on projects to meet the standards and enforceable
requirements of the act. After states achieve those requirements of the act, SRF
monies also may be used to implement nonpoint pollution management and national
estuary programs. Since the SRF program began, states have used $2.6 billion to
assist more than 8,650 nonpoint management projects; none has gone to estuary
All states have established the mechanisms to administer the new loan programs
and have been receiving SRF capitalization funds under Title VI. Many have
complained that the SRF program is unduly complicated by federal rules, even
though Congress had intended that states were to have greater flexibility.
Congressional oversight has examined the progress toward reducing the backlog of
wastewater treatment facilities needed to achieve the act’s water quality objectives,
while newer estimates of future funding needs have drawn increased attention to the
role of the SRF program in meeting such needs. Although there has been some
criticism of the SRF program, and debate continues over specific concerns, the basic
6 For further information, see CRS Report 98-323, Wastewater Treatment: Overview and
Background, by Claudia Copeland.
approach is well supported. Congress used the clean water SRF as the model when
it established a drinking water SRF in 1996 (P.L. 104-182).7
While the initial intent was to phase out federal support for this program,
Congress has continued to appropriate SRF capitalization grants to the states,
providing an average of $1.35 billion annually in recent years, but that amount has
been declining since FY2005. Table 1 summarizes wastewater treatment funding
under Title II (traditional grants program) and Title VI (capitalization grants for8
revolving loan programs) since the 1987 amendments.
Table 1. Wastewater Treatment Funding
(billions of dollars)
Fiscal YearTitle IITitle VITitle IITitle VI
1989 1.2 1.2 0.941 0.941
1990 1.2 1.2 0.967 0.967
1991 — 2.4 — 2.100
1992 — 1.8 — 1.950
1993 — 1.2 — 1.930
1994 — 0.6 — 1.220
1995 — — — 1.240
1996 — — — 2.070
1997 — — — 0.625
1998 — — — 1.350
1999 — — — 1.350
2000 — — — 1.345
2001 — — — 1.350
2002 — — — 1.350
2003 — — — 1.341
2004 — — — 1.342
2005 — — — 1.091
2006 — — — 0.887
2007 — — — 1.084
7 For further information, see CRS Report RS22037, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund:
Program Overview and Issues, by Mary Tiemann.
8 Note: Table 1 does not include appropriations for special project grants in individual cities.
Issues associated with special project grants are discussed in CRS Report RL32201, Water
Infrastructure Project Earmarks in EPA Appropriations: Trends and Policy Implications,
by Claudia Copeland.
One issue of continuing interest is impacts on small communities. These
entities in particular have found it difficult to participate in the SRF loan program,
since many are characterized by narrow or weak tax bases, limited or no access to
capital markets, lower relative household incomes, and higher per capita needs. They
often find it harder to borrow to meet their capital needs and pay relatively high
premiums to do so. Meeting the special needs of small towns, through a
reestablished grant program, other funding source, or loan program with special rules,
has been an issue of interest to Congress.
Because remaining clean water funding needs are still so large nationally, at
issue is whether and how to extend SRF assistance to address those needs, how to
allocate SRF funds among the states, and how to prioritize projects and funding.
Additionally, there is concern about the adequacy of SRF or other funding
specifically for high-cost projects dealing with problems of overflows from
municipal combined and separate sewers which can release partially treated or
untreated wastewaters that harm public health and the environment. EPA estimates
that the cost of projects to control sewer overflows, from combined and separate
sanitary sewer systems, and manage stormwater runoff, is nearly $64 billion
nationwide. And more recently, wastewater utilities have sought assistance to assess
operational vulnerabilities and upgrade physical protection of their facilities against
possible terrorist attacks that could threaten water infrastructure systems.9
Bush Administration officials have said that infrastructure funding needs go
beyond what the federal government can do on its own, and the President’s budget
for several years has advanced the concept that federal funding would cease after
2011 and that state and local self-financing would occur thereafter. While saying that
federal and state funding can help water utilities meet future needs, EPA’s principal
water infrastructure initiative has been to support other types of responses to help
ensure that investment needs are met in an efficient, timely, and equitable manner.
In particular, since 2003 EPA has promoted strategies that it terms the Four Pillars
of Sustainable Infrastructure, based on concepts of better management, full-cost
pricing, efficient water use, and watershed approaches to protection.10 EPA is
pursuing a Sustainable Infrastructure Leadership Initiative in partnership with water
utilities to promote the Four Pillars. The purpose of the initiative is to identify new
and better ways of doing business in the water and wastewater industries and promote
them widely, and thus ensure sustainability of water systems. For example, EPA is
working to encourage rate structures that lead to full cost pricing and will support
water metering and other conservation measures. EPA also is encouraging
consumers to use water-efficient products (e.g., residential bathroom products), with
the intent of reducing national water and wastewater infrastructure needs by reducing
projected water demand and wastewater flow, thus allowing deferral or downsizing
of capital projects.
9 For additional information on many of these issues, see CRS Report RL31116, Water
Infrastructure Needs and Investment: Review and Analysis of Key Issues, by Claudia
Copeland and Mary Tiemann.
10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Water Infrastructure for the 21st
Century. See [http://www.epa.gov/waterinfrastructure].
Legislative Responses. Congress has considered water infrastructure
funding issues several times since the 107th Congress. In that Congress, House and
Senate committees approved bills to extend the act’s SRF program and increase
federal assistance (H.R. 3930; S. 1961, S.Rept. 107-228). A report on H.R. 3930 was
not filed. Neither bill received further action, in large part due to controversies over
application of prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act and over the
formula for allocating SRF grants among the states.
The issue of the applicability of the Davis-Bacon Act to SRF-funded projects
has affected consideration of water infrastructure legislation for some time, because
that act has both strong supporters and critics in Congress. Critics of Davis-Bacon
say that it unnecessarily increases public construction costs and hampers competition,
while supporters say that it helps stabilize the local construction industry by
preventing competition that would undercut local wages and working conditions.
Under the original SRF program authorization enacted in 1987, the Davis-Bacon Act
applied to so-called “first use” monies provided by a state from its SRF (that is, loans
made from initial federal capitalization grants, but not subsequent monies provided
from repayments to the SRF). When that authorization expired at the end of FY1994,
Davis-Bacon requirements also expired. Thus, the recent issue has been whether to
restore the applicability of those requirements.
In the 108th Congress, four bills to reauthorize the Clean Water Act SRF
program were introduced (S. 170, S. 2550, H.R. 20, H.R. 1560). In addition, separate
bills to reauthorize funding for sewer overflow grants (CWA Section 221) were
introduced (H.R. 784, S. 567). In October 2004, the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee reported legislation authorizing $41.25 billion over five years for
wastewater and drinking water infrastructure programs, including $20 billion for the
clean water SRF program (S. 2550, S.Rept. 108-386). The bill included a new
formula for state-by-state allocation of clean water SRF grants, renewal of the Clean
Water Act’s sewer overflow grant program, and provisions such as extended loan
repayments and subsidies for disadvantaged communities.
Prior to the Senate committee’s action, in July 2003, the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment approved
H.R. 1560 (legislation similar to H.R. 3930, the bill approved by that committee in
the 107th Congress), but no further action occurred. H.R. 1560 did not include
language specifying that the Davis-Bacon Act shall apply to SRF-funded projects,
while S. 2550 did include such a requirement. Other factors that clouded these bills
were Administration opposition to authorization levels in both bills and disputes over
funding allocation formulas.
In the 109th Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
approved S. 1400, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act, in July 2005 (S.Rept. 109-
186). The bill was similar to S. 2550 in the 108th Congress; it would have authorized
$20 billion for grants to capitalize the Clean Water Act SRF program and $15 billion
for Safe Drinking Water Act SRFs through FY2010. As approved by the committee,
S. 1400 would have revised the CWA formula for state-by-state allocation of SRF
monies and also specified that the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon
Act shall apply to all projects financed from an SRF (as similarly provided in the
committee’s bill in the 108th Congress). No further action on this bill occurred.
For some time, interest has been growing in identifying and developing new
mechanisms to help localities pay for water infrastructure projects, beyond federal
grants or SRFs, which appear insufficient to fully meet funding needs. In June 2005,
the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and
Environment held hearings on alternative means to fund water infrastructure projects
in the future. At the first hearing, witnesses focused on one way to increase funding
for water infrastructure that has recently been advocated by some groups, creating a
national clean water trust fund that would conceptually be similar to trust funds that
exist for highway and aviation projects. Witnesses and subcommittee members
discussed difficulties in identifying potential revenue sources that would be deemed
fair and equitable. The second hearing addressed other financing options, such as
expanded use of tax-exempt private activity bonds, and more efficient management
techniques, such as asset management programs and sustainable infrastructure
initiatives. In the 109th Congress, legislation was introduced to establish a $7.5
billion federal trust fund for wastewater infrastructure improvements. This bill, H.R.
4560, proposed to use a concept for funding such projects that has been promoted by
wastewater treatment industry officials, other stakeholders, and some
environmentalists, who argue it could provide a new source of money for necessary
system upgrades amid dwindling federal funds. The bill contemplated a system of
user fees to create the fund, but the source of revenue was not specified in the bill.
Congress did not act on this legislation.
110th Congress. Wastewater infrastructure financing again received attention
in the 110th Congress. In March 2007 the House approved three bills addressing the
following issues; however, the Senate did not act on any of them.
!H.R. 720, the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007, was passed by
the House on March 9, 2007. It is substantially similar to legislation
that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water
Resources and Environment Subcommittee approved in the 108th11
Congress (H.R. 1560). It would authorize $14 billion for the clean
water SRF program for FY2008-FY2011.12 It includes several
provisions intended to benefit economically disadvantaged and small
communities, such as allowing extended loan repayments (30 years,
rather than 20) and additional subsidies (e.g., principal forgiveness
and negative interest loans) for communities that meet a state’s
affordability criteria. It includes provisions to require communities
to plan for capital replacement needs and to develop and implement
11 For background information on this earlier legislation, see CRS Report RL32503, Water
Infrastructure Financing Legislation: Comparison of S. 2550 and H.R. 1560, by Claudia
Copeland and Mary Tiemann.
12 The original version of H.R. 720, approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on February 7, authorized $20 billion over FY2008-FY2012 for the SRF
program. In order to comply with budget compliance rules of the House, the committee
approved a substitute version of the bill on March 1 with a lower authorization level over
a four-year period. The substitute also includes a provision restoring vessel tonnage duties
that were in effect from 1990 to 2002 on certain cargo-carrying vessels that enter or depart
from U.S. ports; the additional tonnage duties are intended to offset the cost of H.R. 720.
an asset management plan for the repair and maintenance of
infrastructure that is being financed. One key difference between
this bill and the earlier legislation is the specification in H.R. 720
that the Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage requirement shall apply
to all projects financed in whole or in part through an SRF. This
issue was extensively debated during subcommittee and full
committee markups of the bill, and amendments to delete the
requirement and to request a GAO study of impacts of the Davis-
Bacon Act were defeated. H.R. 720 includes provisions requesting
that GAO prepare a report for Congress on alternative public and
private mechanisms to fund water infrastructure, and a report on
potential funding mechanisms for a clean water trust fund. During
debate on the bill, the House rejected an amendment that would have
deleted the Davis-Bacon requirements in the bill and adopted several
other amendments, including one directing EPA to study U.S. and
Canadian wastewater discharges to the Great Lakes and another
directing states to give funding priority to existing needs before
investing in projects for additional wastewater treatment capacity.
!H.R. 569 would reauthorize CWA Section 221 to authorize for
projects to correct municipal sewer overflows (H.Rept. 110-16). It
is similar to legislation approved by the Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee in the 109th Congress (H.R. 624). The
House passed this bill on March 7, 2007. As passed, the bill would
provide $1.7 billion over five years.
!H.R. 700 would reauthorize CWA Section 220 to extend a pilot
program to develop alternative water source projects (H.Rept. 110-
15). It would authorize a total of $125 million for Section 220. The
House passed this bill on March 9, 2007.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held an oversight
hearing on wastewater infrastructure needs in September 2007 and later took up a
specific legislative proposal dealing with financing issues. In September 2008, the
committee approved the Water Infrastructure Financing Act (S. 3617), a bill that is
similar to a measure that the committee approved in the 109th Congress (S. 1400).
S. 3617 authorizes $20 billion for grants to capitalize the Clean Water Act SRF
program and $15 billion for Safe Drinking Water Act SRF capitalization grants
through FY2012.13 The bill expands eligibility for clean water SRF assistance
including, for example, projects that implement stormwater management, water
conservation or efficiency projects, and water and wastewater reuse and recycling
projects. The measure includes a number of provisions to make the clean water and
drinking water SRF programs more parallel, such as allowing SRF assistance to be
used by private as well as public wastewater treatment systems. It also includes
several provisions to benefit small or economically disadvantaged communities, such
as through new technical assistance and more generous loan terms. The committee
13 These amounts do not reflect an amendment approved during committee markup to reduce
all authorizations in the bill by 2%.
approved an amendment adding Davis-Bacon Act language similar to that in House-
passed H.R. 720, specifying that prevailing wage requirement shall apply to all
projects financed in whole or in part through an SRF.
Regulatory Protection of Wetlands
How best to protect the nation’s remaining wetlands and regulate activities
taking place in wetlands has become one of the most contentious environmental
policy issues, especially in the context of the CWA, which contains a key wetlands
regulatory tool, the permit program in Section 404. It requires landowners or
developers to obtain permits for disposal of dredged or fill material that is generated
by construction or similar activity into navigable waters of the United States,
including wetlands. Section 404 has evolved through judicial interpretation and
regulatory change to become one of the principal federal tools used to protect
wetlands, although that term appears only once in Section 404 itself and is not
defined there. At the same time, its implementation has come to be seen as intrusive
and burdensome to those whose activities it regulates. At issue today is how to
address criticism of the Section 404 regulatory program while achieving desired
goals of wetlands protection.14
Unlike the rest of the act, the permit aspects of Section 404 are administered by
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, rather than EPA, although the Corps uses EPA
environmental guidance. Other federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) have more
limited roles in the Corps’ permitting decisions. Tension has existed for many years
between the regulation of activities in wetlands under Section 404 and related laws,
on the one hand, and the desire of landowners to develop property that may include
wetlands, on the other hand. The conflicts over wetlands regulation have for the
most part occurred in administrative proceedings, as Congress has not amended
Section 404 since 1977, when it provided exemptions for categories of routine
activities, such as normal farming and forestry. Controversy has grown over the
extent of federal jurisdiction and impacts on private property, burdens and delay of
permit procedures, and roles of federal agencies and states in issuing permits.
Judicial Proceedings Involving Section 404. One issue involving long-
standing controversy and litigation is whether isolated waters are properly within the
jurisdiction of Section 404. Isolated waters — wetlands which are not physically
adjacent to navigable surface waters — often appear to provide only some of the
values for which wetlands are protected, such as flood control or water purification,
even if they meet the technical definition of a wetland. On January 9, 2001, the
Supreme Court ruled on the question of whether the CWA provides the Corps and
EPA with authority over isolated waters. The Court’s 5-4 ruling in Solid Waste
Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (531
U.S. 159 (2001)) held that the Corps’ denial of a 404 permit for a disposal site on
isolated wetlands solely on the basis that migratory birds use the site exceeds the
authority provided in the act.
14 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33483, Wetlands: An Overview of Issues,
by Jeffrey Zinn and Claudia Copeland.
The full extent of impacts on the regulatory program resulting from this decision
remains unclear, even five years after the ruling, in part because of different
interpretations of SWANCC reflected in subsequent federal court cases. While it
continues to be difficult to fully assess how regulatory protection of wetlands will be
affected as a result of the SWANCC decision and other possible changes, the
remaining responsibility to protect affected wetlands falls on states and localities.15
Environmentalists believe that the Court misinterpreted congressional intent on the
matter, while industry and landowner groups welcomed the ruling. Policy
implications of how much the decision restricts federal regulation depend on how
broadly or narrowly the opinion is applied. Some federal courts have interpreted
SWANCC narrowly, thus limiting its effect on current permit rules, while a few read
the decision more broadly.
The government’s view on this key question was expressed in EPA-Corps
guidance issued in January 2003. It provides a legal interpretation essentially based
on a narrow reading of the Court’s decision, thus allowing federal regulation of some
isolated waters to continue, but it calls for more headquarters review in disputed
cases. Administration press releases say that the guidance demonstrates the
government’s commitment to “no-net-loss” wetlands policy. However, it is apparent
that the issues remained under review, because at the same time, the Administration
issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comment on
how to define waters that are under jurisdiction of the regulatory program.16 The
ANPRM did not actually propose rule changes, but it indicated possible ways that
Clean Water Act rules might be modified to further limit federal jurisdiction,
building on SWANCC and some subsequent legal decisions.
The government received more than 133,000 comments on the ANPRM, most
of them negative, according to EPA and the Corps. Environmentalists and many
states opposed changing any rules, saying that the law and previous court rulings call
for the broadest possible interpretation of the Clean Water Act (and thus a narrow
interpretation of SWANCC), but developers sought changes to clarify interpretation
of SWANCC. In December 2003, EPA and the Corps announced that the
Administration would not pursue rule changes on federal regulatory jurisdiction over
isolated wetlands. The EPA Administrator said that the Administration wanted to
avoid a contentious and lengthy rulemaking debate over the issue. Environmentalists
and state representatives expressed relief at the announcement. Interest groups on all
sides have been critical of confusion in implementing the 2003 guidance, which
constitutes the main tool for interpreting the reach of the SWANCC decision.
Environmentalists remain concerned about diminished protection resulting from the
guidance, while developers said that without new regulations, confusing and
contradictory interpretations of wetland rules will continue.
15 For additional information, see CRS Report RL30849, The Supreme Court Addresses
Corps of Engineers Jurisdiction Over ‘Isolated Waters’: The SWANCC Decision, by Robert
Meltz and Claudia Copeland.
16 U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers and U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Clean
Water Act Regulatory Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ and Joint Memorandum,”
Federal courts continue to have a key role in interpreting and clarifying the
SWANCC decision. On February 21, 2006, the Supreme Court heard arguments in
two cases brought by landowners (Rapanos v. United States; Carabell v. U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers) seeking to narrow the scope of the CWA permit program as it
applies to development of wetlands. The issue in both cases had to do with the reach
of the CWA to cover “waters” that were not navigable waters, in the traditional
sense, but were connected somehow to navigable waters or “adjacent” to those
waters. (The act requires a federal permit to discharge dredged or fill materials into
“navigable waters.”) Many legal and other observers hoped that the Court’s ruling
in these cases would bring greater clarity about the scope of federal jurisdiction.
The Court’s ruling was issued on June 19, 2006 (Rapanos , v. United States, 547
U.S. 715 (2006)). In a 5-4 decision, a plurality of the Court, led by Justice Scalia,
held that the lower court had applied an incorrect standard to determine whether the
wetlands at issue are covered by the CWA. Justice Kennedy joined this plurality to
vacate the lower court decisions and remand the cases for further consideration, but
he took different positions on most of the substantive issues raised by the cases, as
did four other dissenting justices.17 Legal observers suggest that the implications of
the ruling (both short-term and long-term) are far from clear. Because the several
opinions written by the justices did not draw a clear line regarding which wetlands
and other waters are subject to federal jurisdiction, one likely result is more case-by-
case determinations and continuing litigation. There also could be renewed pressure
on the Corps and EPA to clarify the issues through an administrative rulemaking.
On June 5, 2007 — nearly one year after the Rapanos ruling — EPA and the
Corps issued guidance to enable their field staffs to make CWA jurisdictional
determinations in light of the decision.18 According to the guidance, the agencies will
assert regulatory jurisdiction over certain waters, such as traditional navigable waters
and adjacent wetlands. Jurisdiction over others, such as non-navigable tributaries
that do not typically flow year-round and wetlands adjacent to such tributaries, will
be determined on a case-by-case basis, to determine if the waters in question have a
significant nexus with a traditional navigable water. The guidance details how the
agencies should evaluate whether there is a significant nexus. The guidance is not
intended to increase or decrease CWA jurisdiction, and it does not supersede or
nullify the 2003 guidance, discussed above, which addressed jurisdiction over
isolated wetlands in light of SWANCC.
In accompanying documents, EPA and the Corps said that the Administration
was considering a rulemaking in response to the Rapanos decision, but they noted
that developing new rules to interpret the decision would take more time than issuing
the guidance. They also noted that, while the 2007 guidance provides more clarity
for how jurisdictional determinations will be made concerning non-navigable
tributaries and their adjacent wetlands, legal challenges to the scope of CWA
17 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33263, The Wetlands Coverage of the
Clean Water Act is Revisited by the Supreme Court: Rapanos and Carabell, by Robert Meltz
and Claudia Copeland.
18 The guidance and related documents are available at [http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/
jurisdiction are likely to continue. The guidance took effect immediately, but the
agencies also solicited public comments for a six-month period. The agencies could
make changes to the guidance based on those public comments, but they have not
done so yet.
Congressional Actions. In September 2002, a House Government Reform
subcommittee held a hearing on the government’s response to the SWANCC decision.
Committee Members and public witnesses indicated that a lack of guidance from the
government clarifying its interpretation of the case had led to inconsistent regulatory
decisions by Corps officials in individual regions of the country, and subsequent
judicial decisions by other federal and state court have been mixed. At the hearing,
Corps and EPA officials testified on their efforts to develop guidance, which
subsequently was released in January 2003. Concern about lingering confusion over
the SWANCC decision and Corps implementation was the topic of an oversight
hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in June 2003.
Developers and others in the regulated community criticized the Corps and EPA,
saying that the January 2003 guidance document had not clarified the reach of federal
jurisdiction. A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee also held a
hearing on post-SWANCC issues in March 2004.
Controversies persist about the 2003 SWANCC guidance. On May 18, 2006, the
House adopted an amendment to a bill providing FY2007 appropriations for EPA
(H.R. 5386). The amendment (passed by a 222-198 vote) would have barred EPA
from spending funds to implement the 2003 policy guidance. Supporters of the
amendment said that the guidance goes beyond what the Supreme Court required in
SWANCC, has allowed many streams and wetlands to be unprotected from
development, and has been more confusing than helpful. Opponents of the
amendment predicted that it would make EPA’s and the Corps’ regulatory job more
difficult than it already is. Congress adjourned sine die in December 2006 without
taking final action on H.R. 5386.
Legislation to overturn the SWANCC and Rapanos decisions by providing ath
broad definition of “waters of the United States” was introduced in the 110
Congress (H.R. 2421 and S. 1870, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of19ththth
Other legislation to narrow the definition of “waters of the United States” also wasth
introduced in the 109 Congress (H.R. 2658). On August 1, 2006, a Senate
Environment and Public Works subcommittee held a hearing on the Court’s Rapanos
decision. For now, it is unclear whether the decision in the Rapanos and Carabell
cases will accelerate congressional action on legislative proposals to address
uncertainties about federal jurisdiction over wetlands and other waters, but both the
SWANCC and Rapanos rulings remain highly controversial.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held hearings on H.R.
2421 and related jurisdictional issues on July 17 and July 19, 2007. Another hearing
was held April 16, 2008. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
19 For additional information and discussion of legislation, see CRS Report RL33483,
Wetlands: An Overview of Issues, Jeffrey A. Zinn and Claudia Copeland.
held a hearing on issues related to the Rapanos ruling on December 13, 2007, and
held a legislative hearing on S. 1870 on April 9, 2008. Proponents contend that
Congress must clarify the important issues left unsettled by the Supreme Court’s
2001 and 2006 rulings and by the 2007 Corps/EPA guidance. Bill sponsors argue
that the legislation would “reaffirm” what Congress intended when the CWA was
enacted in 1972 and what EPA and the Corps have subsequently been practicing until
recently, in terms of CWA jurisdiction. But critics question the constitutionality of
the legislation and assert that it would expand federal authority, thus likely increasing
confusion, rather than settling it. Prospects for the legislation are uncertain, given the
divided views on how it might be interpreted by federal agencies and the courts.
Regulating Discharges from Vessels
Concerns have been expressed about a court ruling on regulation of ballast
water, which is used by tankers, bulk cargo carriers, and cruise ships to stabilize
vessels during transport. Ballast water is often taken on in the coastal waters of one
region and discharged at the next port of call, as cargo is off-loaded or added. Clean
Water Act rules currently exempt ballast water and other discharges incidental to the
normal operation of vessels from CWA permit requirements.20 Because of the
growing problem of the introduction of invasive species into U.S. waters via ballast
waters, environmental groups sued EPA to force the agency to rescind the regulatory
exemption. In March 2005, a federal district court ruled in favor of the groups, and,
subsequently, the court remanded the matter to EPA with an order that the challenged
regulation be set aside by September 30, 2008, requiring the EPA to issue CWA
permits after that date (Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA, No. C 03-05760
SI (N.D.Cal, September 18, 2006)). The district court’s ruling was upheld on July
23, but on August 31, the district court approved EPA’s request to delay the court’s
order until Dec. 19, 2008.
Although the government appealed the district court’s ruling, EPA initiated
efforts to respond to the court’s mandate, in case the appeal is unsuccessful.
Significantly, the court’s ruling applies fully to all types of vessel discharges that are
covered by the regulatory exemption, including gray water (wastewater from sinks
and laundries), ballast water, and bilge water. Some observers argued that legislative
clarification of this issue was needed, because an appeal might not be resolved before
the deadline mandated by the district court.
EPA estimated that as many as 13 million recreational boats and 98,000
commercial vessels could be affected by a permitting program. Concern over this
possibility led to the introduction of several bills in the 110th Congress to statutorily
exempt vessels from CWA permit requirements that EPA might adopt in response
to the federal court’s order. In July, Congress passed two of these bills, and President
Bush signed both. One is P.L. 110-288 (S. 2766); it exempts recreational boats from
CWA permit requirements and requires EPA to develop management practices for
discharges other than sewage that are incidental to the normal operation of such
vessels. The second is P.L. 110-299 (S. 3298); it provides a two-year permit
20 This regulatory exemption does not include sewage discharges from vessels, which are
regulated under CWA Section 312.
moratorium for fishing vessels and other vessels less than 79 feet in length and
requires EPA to evaluate the impact of discharges other than sewage and ballast
water that are incidental to the normal operation of vessels.
On June 17, while waiting for the court of appeals or Congress to provide relief
from the district court’s order, EPA proposed two CWA general permits. One permit
covers recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, and the second covers
commercial and large recreational vessels. Enactment of S. 2766 and S. 3298
relieved recreational boats from permit requirements, but as many as 50,000 large
commercial vessels still must comply when permits are finalized by EPA in
Related to this issue, the 110th Congress also considered legislation to provide
a uniform national approach for addressing aquatic nuisance species from ballast
water under a program administered by the Coast Guard (S. 1578, ordered reported
by the Senate Commerce Committee on September 27, and House-passed H.R.
2830). Some groups oppose these bills, because they would preempt states from
enacting ballast water management programs more stringent than Coast Guard
requirements under the legislation, which the CWA allows.22
Extension of the Great Lakes Legacy Act
Significant portions of Great Lakes waters are impaired due to years of
discharges of toxic chemicals that have accumulated in the sediments of the lakes.
Toxic chemicals in sediment can enter the food chain and threaten the health of fish,
wildlife, and humans. Together, the U.S. and Canadian governments have identified
42 specific areas of contaminated sediments throughout the lakes as Areas of
Concern and have initiated a variety of remedial actions. However, concern over the
slow pace and limited funding for such projects led to enactment of the Great Lakes
Legacy Act on 2002 (P.L. 107-303). It amended the Great Lakes provision of the
CWA (section 118) to authorize funds for monitoring, evaluating, and remediating
contaminated sediments in areas of concern in the lakes.
Authorizations under the original legislation expired at the end of FY2008.
Thus, the 110th Congress enacted legislation (H.R. 6460) to extend authorizations for
two years (through FY2010) at existing funding levels of $50 million per year. In
response to comments from stakeholders, the new legislation makes several
procedural changes to the cleanup program to speed up the ranking, prioritization,
and remediation of contaminated sites; gives EPA greater flexibility to manage funds;
and allows use of cleanup funds to include habitat restoration. President Bush signed
the bill on October 8, 2008 (P.L. 110-365).
21 For additional information, see CRS Report RS22878, Clean Water Act: Legislation
Concerning Discharges from Recreational Boats, by Claudia Copeland.
22 For additional information see CRS Report RL34640, Regulating Ballast Water
Discharges: Current Legislative Issues, by Claudia Copeland.
Other Clean Water Act Issues
Several other issues affecting efforts to achieve the goals and objectives of the
Clean Water Act also were of interest during the 110th Congress through oversight
Implementation of the BEACH Act. In 2000 Congress enacted the Beaches
Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (the BEACH Act) in order to
augment federal and state efforts to prevent human exposure to polluted coastal
recreation waters, including the Great Lakes. This act directed coastal states to adopt
updated water quality standards and EPA to develop new protective criteria and
standards. It also authorized grants to coastal states to support monitoring and
notification programs. In May 2007 the GAO issued a report on federal and state
implementation, finding that EPA has implemented most provisions of the act, but
has not yet published new or revised water quality criteria, which the law required23
by 2005. Several bills to extend authorization of appropriations for the BEACH
grants were introduced in the 110th Congress (H.R. 723, H.R. 909, H.R. 2537/S.
1506, S. 2844), and hearings on the status of implementation were held by Senate and
House committees. On April 16, 2008, the House approved H.R. 2537 with several
amendments (H.Rept. 110-491). The bill would allow states to use BEACH Act
funds to track sources of pollution and would require states to use rapid testing
methods of beach water, in order to improve public notification. It would increase
grant funds to the states from $30 million annually to $40 million. It also directs
EPA to publish revised water quality criteria for pathogens, a key pollutant of
concern at beaches, as well as a list of all pathogens and pathogen indicators it has
studied and observed in the course of developing those criteria.
On May 21, 2008, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
ordered reported companion legislation, S. 2844 (S.Rept. 110-414). The Senate
version would increase authorized grant funds to $60 million per year. No further
Stormwater Discharges. EPA has struggled since the 1970s to regulate
industrial and municipal stormwater discharges in a workable yet comprehensive
manner. For many years, it was generally believed that stormwater was largely clean,
or uncontaminated. However, studies have shown that this type of discharge carries
with it large amounts of organic and toxic pollutants that can harm water quality,
including oil and grease, heavy metals, pesticides, soil, and sediment. In P.L. 100-4,
Congress established firm deadlines and priorities for EPA to require permits for
discharges of stormwater that are not mixed or contaminated with household or
industrial waste. EPA issued rules in November 1990 that addressed Phase I of the
program, detailing the process of applying for stormwater permits for industries,
medium and large municipalities, and construction sites larger than 5 acres. The
agency worked with an advisory committee of stakeholders beginning in 1994 to
develop rules for regulating smaller stormwater dischargers, which were not covered
23 U.S. Government Accountability Office, EPA and States Have Made Progress in
Implementing the BEACH Act, but Additional Actions Could Improve Public Health
Protection, (GAO-07-591), May 2007, 61 p.
by the 1990 rules. Rules for smaller dischargers (unregulated industries, small
construction sites, and small cities), Phase II of the program, were issued in October
1999. The burden of complying with the rules continues to be an issue with many
industries and municipalities, especially small cities, which faced compliance
deadlines beginning in March 2003.24
A May 2007 GAO report examined municipalities’ implementation of the Phase
I and Phase II stormwater rules and burdens of the regulatory program on
communities. GAO reported that issuance of some permits was delayed for years
after the application deadlines: almost 11% of all communities were not permitted
as of fall 2006. As a result, almost all Phase II and some Phase I communities are
still in the early stages of implementation. Thus, GAO concluded that it is too early
to assess the program or determine its overall burden. GAO attempted to analyze
EPA’s estimates of program costs, but found methodological and data problems
serious enough that GAO could not use the estimates as indicators of actual program
costs. Further, GAO found that municipalities’ annual reports to EPA were too
limited and inconsistent to permit assessing the costs of the stormwater program.25
Stormwater issues were addressed in one provision of omnibus energy
legislation in the 109th Congress. As the March 2003 compliance deadline
approached for Phase II small construction sites to comply with stormwater permit
rules, EPA proposed a two-year extension of those rules for small oil and gas
construction sites to allow the agency to assess the economic impact on that
particular industry. In March 2005, EPA again extended the deadline, until June
2006. During this time, Congress considered a legislative solution which it enacted
in Section 323 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58). It provides a
permanent exemption from stormwater runoff rules for the construction of
exploration and production facilities by oil and gas companies or the roads that
service those sites.
Industry officials said that EPA’s original stormwater rule created costly
permitting requirements, even though the short construction period for drilling sites
carries little potential for stormwater runoff pollution. The enacted provision makes
EPA’s temporary delay permanent and makes it applicable to construction activities
at all oil and gas development and production sites, regardless of size, including
those covered by an earlier Phase I of the stormwater program. Opponents argued
that the provision did not belong in the energy legislation and that there was no
evidence that construction at oil and gas sites causes less pollution than other
construction activities. Congress passed the conference report on the legislation,
with the oil and gas stormwater provision, in July 2005. President Bush signed it into
law on August 8, 2005.
24 For further information, see CRS Report 97-290, Stormwater Permits: Status of EPA’s
Regulatory Program, by Claudia Copeland.
25 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Further Implementation and Better Costs Data
Needed to Determine Impact of EPA’s Storm Water Program on Communities, GAO-07-
In June 2006, EPA promulgated a rule to conform the CWA to these provisions
of P.L. 109-58.26 The rule exempts oil and gas construction activities from CWA
permits, including sediment-laden stormwater discharges, even if such discharges
contribute to a violation of water quality standards. Environmental groups
challenged the rule, saying that, because sediment is a pollutant, EPA exceeded its
authority by including uncontaminated sediment in the permit exemption. In May
2008, a federal court agreed with the challengers, ruling that the regulation
“constituted an impermissible construction” of the CWA, and vacated the regulation
(Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, CA 9, No. 06-73217, May 23, 2008).
The government’s request for a rehearing of this ruling was denied in November;
EPA has not indicated how it will respond to vacatur of the rule.
Combined and Separate Sewer Overflows. A total of 772 municipalities
have combined sewers where domestic sanitary sewage, industrial wastes, infiltration
from groundwater, and stormwater runoff are collected. These systems serve
approximately 40 million persons, mainly in older urban and coastal cities. Normally
(under dry-weather conditions), the combined wastes are conveyed to a municipal
sewage treatment plant.
Properly designed, sized, and maintained combined sewers can be an acceptable
part of a city’s water pollution control infrastructure. However, combined sewer
overflow (CSO) occurs when the capacity of the collection and treatment system is
exceeded due to high volumes of rainwater or snowmelt, and the excess volume is
diverted and discharged directly into receiving waters, bypassing the sewage
treatment plants. Often the excess flow that contains raw sewage, industrial wastes,
and stormwater is discharged untreated. Many combined sewer systems are found
in coastal areas where recreational areas, fish habitat and shellfish beds may be
contaminated by the discharges.
In 1994, following negotiations with key stakeholder groups, EPA issued a CSO
permitting strategy. Cities were to implement nine minimum controls by January 1,
1997 (e.g., proper operation and maintenance programs for sewer systems and
pollution prevention programs). Controls generally are based on combinations of
management techniques (such as temporary retention of excess flow during storm
events) and structural measures (ranging from screens that capture solids to
construction of separate sewer systems). EPA officials stated in 1998 that only about
one-half of the cities with combined sewers implemented the minimum measures
called for in the 1994 strategy. EPA has been working with states to remind cities
of their obligations to address CSO problems. However, a formal enforcement
strategy is not contemplated.
One issue concerning some cities is the problem of overflows from municipal
separate sanitary sewers (SSOs) that are not CSOs because they transport only
sanitary wastes. Discharges of untreated sewage from these sewers can occur from
26 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Amendments to the National Pollutant Discharge
Elimination System (NPDES) Regulations for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Oil
and Gas Exploration, Production, Processing, or Treatment Operations, or Transmission
Facilities,” 71 Federal Register 33628, June 12, 2006.
manholes, broken pipes and deteriorated infrastructure, and undersized pipes, and can
occur in wet or dry weather. EPA estimates that there are about 18,000
municipalities with separate sanitary sewers, all of which can, under certain
circumstances, experience overflows. No explicit EPA or statutory control policy
currently exists. In 1995, EPA convened a stakeholders’ group to discuss how to
address those overflows that pose the highest environmental and public health risk
first. On January 5, 2001, the Clinton Administration proposed regulations to
improve the operation of municipal sanitary sewer collection systems, reduce the
frequency and occurrence of overflows, clarify the existing CWA prohibition on SSO
discharges, and clarify circumstances appropriate for enforcement action. The
Clinton proposal was not finalized by the Bush Administration, which reportedly is
continuing to consider SSO policy issues.
Funding for CSO and SSO projects is a major concern of states and cities. The
most recent clean water needs survey found that the largest needs category, totaling
$55 billion and representing 27% of total needs, is to address CSOs. In December
2000, Congress passed legislation, the Wet Weather Water Quality Act, authorizing
a two-year $1.5 billion grants program to reduce wet weather flows from municipal
sewer systems, both CSOs and SSOs. This bill was included in the FY2001
Consolidated Appropriations bill (Section 112 of Division B, P.L. 106-554), which
codified EPA’s CSO policy on sewer overflows (discussed above). Congress
provided no appropriations for these wet weather grants during the two years of
authorization (FY2002-FY2003). As described above, in March 2007, the House
passed legislation to reauthorize this grant program (H.R. 569).
The 110th Congress also addressed a related issue, that of notification to the
public when a sewer overflow event occurs. On June 23 the House passed H.R.
2452, a bill intended to ensure that sewage treatment plants monitor for and report
discharges of raw sewage from combined or separate sewers. The bill would require
EPA to issue criteria to guide plant operators in assessing whether a sewer overflow
has the potential to affect human health or imminently and substantially endanger
human health. On September 17, the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee approved S. 2080 with an amendment providing the text of House-passed
H.R. 2452. No further action occurred.
Wastewater Security. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the
United States, congressional attention has focused on security, preparedness, and
emergency response issues. Among the topics of interest is protection of the nation’s
water infrastructure facilities (both drinking water and wastewater) from possible
physical damage, biological/chemical attacks, and cyber disruption.27
Policymakers have examined a number of legislative options in this area,
including enhanced physical security, communication and coordination, and research.
In the 107th Congress, the House passed legislation to authorize $200 million in
grants for security activities at wastewater treatment plants (H.R. 5169). Similar
legislation was introduced in the Senate (S. 3037), but no further action occurred.
27 For information, see CRS Report RL32189, Terrorism and Security Issues Facing the
Water Infrastructure Sector, by Claudia Copeland.
Congress did enact legislation directing medium and large drinking water utilities to
assess their vulnerabilities to terrorist attack and authorizing $160 million in grants
for these utilities to conduct assessments (P.L. 107-188).
Following on those new requirements affecting drinking water utilities, in the
108th Congress, the House passed legislation that would have authorized $200 million
in grants to wastewater utilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and an
additional $20 million for technical assistance and improved assessment tools (H.R.
866). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a similar bill
(S. 1039). No further action occurred, due in part to concerns expressed by some that
the legislation would not mandate vulnerability assessments and would not require
that they be submitted to EPA, as is the case with drinking water assessments
required by P.L. 107-188.
Wastewater security issues again received attention in the 109th Congress. In
May 2006, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S. 2781
(S.Rept. 109-345). It was similar to S. 1039 in the 108th Congress in that it would
have encouraged wastewater utilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and would
have authorized $220 million to assist utilities with assessments and preparation of
site security plans. It also included provisions responding to a March 2006 GAO
report that found that wastewater utilities have made little effort to address
vulnerabilities of collection systems, which may be used by terrorists to introduce
hazardous substances or as access points for underground travel to a potential target.
S. 2781 would have authorized EPA to conduct research on this topic. During
committee consideration of the bill, an amendment was rejected that would have
required, rather than encouraged, treatment works to conduct vulnerability
assessments and also would have required high-risk facilities to switch from using
chlorine and similar hazardous substances to other chemicals that are often referred
to as “inherently safer technologies.” No further action occurred on this bill. A bill
in the 110th Congress, S. 1968, would authorize grants for vulnerability assessments
and security enhancements at wastewater treatment and drinking water treatment
plants and also would authorize research activities. There was no action on this bill.
Nonpoint Pollution Management. Prior to the 1987 CWA amendments,
the act’s requirements focused primarily on controlling pollution from “point”
sources, that is, discharges from wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities.
Yet, as industrial and municipal sources have abated pollution, uncontrolled nonpoint
sources have become a relatively larger portion of remaining water quality problems
— perhaps contributing as much as 50% of the nation’s water pollution. Nonpoint
pollution is rainfall or snowmelt runoff from farm and urban areas, as well as
construction, forestry, and mining sites. In 1987 Congress added a new Section 319
to the act to strengthen the law regarding this major contributor to water pollution by
requiring states to develop and implement programs to control nonpoint sources of
pollution. States were required to identify waters not expected to meet water quality
standards because of nonpoint source pollution and to implement plans for managing
pollution from runoff. Federal grants totaling $400 million were authorized to cover
as much as 60% of the costs of implementing a state’s management plan.
At issue today is what progress is being made to manage nonpoint source
pollution and what additional efforts may be needed involving Section 319 or other
public and private activities. Several concerns have been raised about the program,
such as whether state plans have comprehensively addressed their nonpoint pollution
problems. Some observers are critical of the largely voluntary nature of the Section
319 program, consisting of “all carrot but no stick,” while others argue that the types
of individual land management decisions that are needed to manage nonpoint source
pollution cannot be regulated in the same ways that industrial sources are controlled.
Funding has become an important issue as states moved from assessment and
plan development to management, since Congress intended that Section 319 funds
be used primarily to implement nonpoint pollution controls on the ground. Precise
estimates of management costs are not available, because so much depends on the
site-specific nature of problems and solutions. However, in 1994 EPA estimated that
current and planned spending by private sources, states, and cities under provisions
of current law is between $750 million and $1.1 billion per year. Without adequate
funding to implement state management plans, it is doubtful that much will be
achieved under Section 319 to control nonpoint source pollution.
Because agricultural activities are known to be a significant source of nonpoint
pollution nationwide, the adequacy of efforts to address these sources has received
much attention. Questions have been raised about the 319 grant program’s efficacy
and overlap with farm bill conservation funding. In particular, the White House
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) found that EPA had not demonstrated
results under the program and has urged the agency to shift its focus away from
implementing projects in agricultural areas and toward implementing plans in
impaired waters. State officials have been concerned that OMB is not fully aware of
the extent to which Section 319 funds address a range of nonpoint pollution control
needs beyond the agricultural sector.
Strategy Concerning Animal Feeding Operations. As noted previously,
EPA’s water quality reports identify agricultural activities as the leading contributor
to water quality impairments nationwide. Animal feeding operations (AFOs) are
only a subset of the agriculture category, but because more than one-half of the states
specifically identify AFOs as contributing to impairments, public and policy attention
has increased on how to minimize public health and environmental impacts of runoff
from them. AFOs are agricultural facilities that confine livestock and their feeding
activities, thus concentrating animal populations and waste. Animal waste is
frequently applied to land for disposal and to utilize the nutrient value of manure to
benefit crops. If not managed properly, however, it can pose risks to water quality
and public health, contributing pollutants such as nutrients, sediment, pathogens, and
ammonia to the environment.
Clean water regulations issued in the 1970s required discharge permits for the
largest AFOs, termed confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). However, EPA
acknowledged that compliance and enforcement of these permit rules was poor (less
than one-third of covered facilities actually have permits) and that the regulations
themselves were outdated. In December 2002, EPA issued revised rules to regulate
waste discharges from CAFOs. Among the key elements, the rules include
requirements for development of nutrient management plans to better manage land
application of manure. EPA estimated that 15,500 CAFOs would be regulated by the
rule, at an annual compliance cost of $335 million. Farm groups said that the
regulations are generally workable and consistent with environmental initiatives in
the 2002 farm bill (P.L. 107-171), but environmental groups criticized the rule for
inadequately addressing animal waste runoff problems.28 A January 2003 GAO
report concluded that the rules will be ineffective unless EPA increases its oversight
of state regulatory programs, which have primary responsibility for ensuring
compliance by feedlot operators.29
In February 2005, a federal court issued a ruling in a set of challenges to the
CAFO rule (Waterkeeper Alliance, American Farm Bureau, et al. v. EPA, 399 F.3d
486 (2d Cir. 2005)). The litigation involved challenges to the permitting scheme of
the rule, the type of discharges subject to regulation, and the effluent limitations
established in the rules. The court upheld major parts of the EPA rule, held in favor
of some of industry’s challenges, held in favor of several of environmentalists’
challenges, and in some cases directed EPA to explain more fully why it did or did
not do certain things with regard to specific provisions of the rule. In October 2008,
EPA issued final revisions to the 2003 CAFO rule in response to the court’s
Other Implementation Issues. Also of legislative interest are the impacts
of court rulings in several cases concerning implementation of existing provisions of
the law and involving questions of whether certain activities require a Clean Water
Act discharge permit. A fundamental element of the act is the requirement that the
“discharge of a pollutant” from a point source shall be carried out pursuant to a
permit authorized by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
program under Section 402 of the law. In 2004, the Supreme Court held that the
transfer of polluted water from one waterbody to another requires a permit,
notwithstanding that no new pollutant is added in the process of transfer (South
Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, 124 S. Ct. 153731
(2004)). The decision raised concerns in agricultural areas where such transfers
often occur in supplying irrigation water, presently without a permit. Congress has
not held oversight hearings on impacts of the Court’s decision, and legislation that
might address the ruling has not been introduced. In response to the Court’s ruling,
in June 2008, EPA promulgated a rule defining categories or types of water transfers
that the agency believes do not require NPDES permits. The rule, which supports
EPA’s long-standing legal interpretation of the CWA, is controversial and was
quickly challenged in federal courts by the Miccosukee Indian Tribe of Florida and
28 For additional information, see CRS Report RL31851, Animal Waste and Water Quality:
EPA Regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, by Claudia Copeland.
29 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Increased EPA Oversight Will Improve
Environmental Program for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, GAO-03-285,
January 2003, 42 p.
30 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33656, Animal Waste and Water Quality:
EPA’s Response to the “Waterkeeper Alliance” Court Decision on Regulation of CAFOs,
by Claudia Copeland.
31 For information, see CRS Report RL32569, The Supreme Court Revisits the Environment:
Seven Cases Decided or Accepted in the 2003-2004 Term, by Robert Meltz.
Decisions of federal courts in two cases have held that aerial application of a
pesticide over and into U.S. waters requires a CWA permit, even when the pesticide
use meets other requirements of federal law, including the Federal Insecticide,
Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). These and related decisions drew the
attention of many pesticide applicators, including public health entities such as
mosquito control districts, concerned with how the rulings might affect their need to
control pests associated with diseases such as the West Nile virus. In November
2006, EPA finalized a rulemaking seeking to resolve the conflict over the regulatory
scope of the CWA and FIFRA related to pesticide use, in light of the recent litigation,
by promulgating a regulation to clarify circumstances under which a CWA permit is
or is not required for activities carried out pursuant to FIFRA. Legal challenges to
this rule are pending in federal court. Congress examined these issues in oversight
hearings, one by a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee in October
Legislation intended to affirm that a CWA permit is not required for use of FIFRA-
approved pesticides and to broaden EPA’s 2006 regulatory policy was introduced in
the 109th Congress, the Pest Management and Fire Suppression Flexibility Act (H.R.
1749, S. 1269). A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee held a
hearing on H.R. 1749 on September 29, 2005. No further action occurred.32
Continuing Issue: Appropriations
Clean water funding questions continue to arise and be addressed by Congress
in the context of appropriations.33
FY2008. The President’s FY2008 budget request was presented to Congress
on February 5, 2007. The budget requested $687.6 million for clean water SRF
grants, the same amount requested for FY2007. The budget sought reduced funding
for several other water quality programs below levels enacted for FY2007 in P.L.
110-5, including nonpoint pollution management grants (proposed 5% cut), grant
funding for states for watershed protection (proposed to be eliminated), and funds for
the National Estuary Program (proposed 28% cut). Other water quality programs
would receive increased funding under the proposal, including cleanup of
contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes (proposed 21% increase), funds for the
Chesapeake Bay program (30% increase), and grants to states for water quality
monitoring (3% increase).
On June 27 the House passed H.R. 2643, providing FY2008 appropriations for
EPA. This bill included $1.125 billion for clean water SRF grants, plus $175.5
million for 143 congressionally designated water infrastructure project grants. It also
included increases above the Administration’s request for nonpoint pollution
management grants, targeted watershed protection grants, and the National Estuary
32 For background, see CRS Report RL32884, Pesticide Use and Water Quality: Are the
Laws Complementary or In Conflict? by Claudia Copeland.
33 For additional information, see CRS Report 96-647, Water Infrastructure Financing:
History of EPA Appropriations, by Claudia Copeland.
Program, as well as Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay programs. The Senate
Appropriations Committee approved companion legislation (S. 1696) that similarly
included higher funding levels for several water quality programs. The Senate
committee’s bill provided less funding for clean water SRF grants than the House bill
($887 million), but slightly more for congressionally designated water infrastructure
project grants ($180 million). The Senate did not take up S. 1696.
By October 1, the start of the fiscal year, Congress had not enacted any FY2008
appropriations bills. Congress enacted several short-term continuing appropriations
resolutions to temporarily fund EPA and other government agencies until final
agreement, which occurred in December 2007. Full-year funding for EPA’s water
infrastructure programs was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for
FY2008 (Division F, Title II), signed by the President December 26, 2007 (P.L. 110-
161). The final bill included $689 million for clean water SRF grants ($1.5 million
more than requested, but $395 million less than in FY2007), plus $177 million for
Mexico border projects.
FY2009. The President’s FY2009 budget was presented on February 5, 2008.
Overall, the budget sought $7.1 billion for EPA programs and activities, 5% less than
Congress appropriated for FY2008. The request included a number of reductions for
water quality programs. It sought $555 million for the clean water SRF program
(20% below the FY2008 level) and, as in previous budgets, requested no funding for
congressionally earmarked water infrastructure grants. In addition, the budget asked
for 8% less for nonpoint pollution management grants ($184.5 million, compared
with $200.8 million in FY2008) and sought no funding for the targeted watershed
grants program, a competitive grant program that provides funding for community-
driven watershed restoration projects; it received $10 million in FY2008
On June 11, a House Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill with FY2009
funds for EPA. The bill included $850 million for clean water SRF capitalization
grants (which is $295 million above the Administration’s request and $161 million
above the FY2008 level) and $150 million for congressionally earmarked water
No further action occurred before the start of the new fiscal year. However, at
the end of September Congress and the President agreed to legislation providing
partial-year funding for EPA and most other agencies and departments. This bill, the
Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Resolution Act, 2009
(P.L. 110-329) provides funding through March 6, 2009, at FY2008-enacted levels.
Final action on FY2009 appropriations is expected to occur early in 2009.