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September 10, 2014 Published in EcoNews, Top Stories

Congress To Block Protections For Over 28,000 Miles Of Virginia’s Streams

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28,000 stream miles across the state could remain vulnerable to development and pollution, under a bill expected to win approval today by the U.S. House of Representatives. The waters flow into the Chesapeake Bay and help provide drinking water for over 2 million Virginians.

“Given how much Virginians use and enjoy them, we should be doing everything we can to protect our rivers and streams,” said Jessie Mehrhoff, Campaign Organizer with Environment Virginia. “Yet the polluters and their allies in Congress are doing everything they can to put our waters in jeopardy.”

The bill, HR 5078, would bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from restoring protections of the Clean Water Act to more than half of the nation’s rivers and streams, including 57% of Virginia’s waterways, left in limbo for nearly a decade after a pair of Supreme Court decisions created a loophole in the law.

In March, EPA proposed a rule to close this loophole and again safeguard under federal law the state’s smaller headwaters and streams along with 20 million acres of wetlands across the country.

A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and tens of thousands of Virginians have heralded the EPA move, but agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters affected by the rule have waged a bitter campaign against it.

“Instead of siding with our rivers and the Virginians who love to fish, boat and swim in them,” said Mehrhoff, “today Congress is siding with the polluters.”

The attack blocks both the proposed rule and anything that might resemble it, and delays any effort to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act for up to two years. The White House has threatened to veto the measure, whose prospects are less certain in the Senate.

More than 15,000 Virginians and hundreds of other stakeholders have already written in favor of the rule, which is open for public comment through the fall.

“People from all walks of life want to see their rivers, lakes, and streams safeguarded,” said Mehrhoff.

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