Jul 25, 2003

New York Will Protect Clean Water Act

New York has filed court papers seeking to intervene in two lawsuits surrounding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s oil spill prevention program that many believe seek to reduce the scope of the Clean Water Act. The program was designed to prevent discharges of oil into the waters of the United States, and to contain those discharges if they occur

According to the papers filed by New York State, about 20 percent of the state’s streams, creeks and wetlands–including much of the watershed that provides drinking water to New York City–could lose federal Clean Water Act protection if the oil industry’s arguments prevail.

The lawsuits have been brought by representatives of the oil industry, which contends that the law’s protections only apply to water that are "navigable in fact" and to wetlands adjacent to them. This definition would exclude many of the nation’s streams, creeks and wetlands, thereby removing them from the federal protections afforded by the Clean Water Act.

The move follows a filing by several environmental groups to intervene in these cases. Environmentalists are concerned the Bush administration will not aggressively battle the legal challenge of the oil industry and might choose to settle the case.

The oil industry claims that it should only have to take steps to prevent oil spills in certain waters, narrowly defined as "navigable," and thus can legally discharge oil into most of the nation’s streams and creeks and many of its wetlands.