July 26, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Napolitano Statements from Roundtable to Examine Fallout from SCOTUS Sackett Decision


Washington, D.C. — The following are remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s Democratic roundtable titled, “Murky Waters: Navigating a Post-Sackett World.”

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Ranking Member Napolitano for convening this roundtable to discuss the impact of the Sackett v. EPA decision. While we await more exact impact analysis, the initial estimates predict a broad removal of protections for waterbodies nationwide.

Thank you for assembling such varied perspectives for today’s panel. The Sackett decision will affect specific regions and communities differently, so it is fitting to bring in such a wide range of participants to speak to those impacts.

Relying upon estimates from EPA’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule under the previous administration, which similarly negated the significant nexus test, this decision could threaten roughly 50% of wetlands, and 70% of rivers and streams that have been protected since the creation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The impacts of weakened CWA protections are not limited to permitting rules.

For example, we can expect increased flooding when formerly protected wetlands are filled in or polluted. Polluting upstream ephemeral or intermittent streams will likely lead to water body pollution downstream. Pollution can mean beach closures, harmful algal blooms, and habitat destruction to plants and animals that rely on those waters.

These kinds of harmful impacts will effectively reverse investments that we have been making for decades.

In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, on a bipartisan basis, Congress affirmed its commitment to water infrastructure with $12.7 billion in federal dollars for upgrading wastewater systems and preventing pollution. That investment will be moot if these systems are bridled with additional, unregulated pollution.

Waterbodies do not recognize state lines, which is why Congress passed the original Clean Water Act—having 50 different sets of rules led to downstream pollution from upstream neighbors with different regulations.

In Washington State, this is a frequent concern. We need to rely on our bordering states’ water protections, because much of our water flows originate there. Rivers with headwaters in Idaho come through my state, and are the same waters that tribes rely on for subsistence fishing or that farmers rely on for watering their crops and livestock.

House Democrats consistently support investments in water infrastructure and clean water protections to support public health, our environment, our communities and local economies. This decision, if not met with Congressional action, could reverse all those efforts.

I look forward to this discussion today. Thank you to the panelists for your participation in this important roundtable.

Ranking Member Napolitano:

Thank you for joining today’s discussion on the future of clean water in a post-Sackett world.

Clean water should not be a partisan issue.

Year after year, the protection of clean water for our families, for our communities, and for our environment ranks highest among American families for its public support.

That support only increases when access to clean water is threatened, such as through increased pollution, climate change and recurring drought. 

I hope we can agree that our families and future generations should have the same access to clean water, regardless of zip code.

Yet, we often hear disagreement on how to protect clean water or who should pay to keep our waters clean, safe, and healthy.

For fifty years, the Clean Water Act has provided the framework for comprehensive and scientifically-grounded efforts to protect clean water.

The Clean Water Act was Congress’ response to a failed state-led system where every state was given the ultimate responsibility for protecting its own waterbodies.

In essence, the Clean Water Act created a comprehensive, national program, carried out though a strong partnership between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), and the States.

The Clean Water Act ensured that each entity had a specific, complementary role to play in protecting clean water–and guaranteed consistent levels of protection for both upstream and downstream states.

The successes of the Act are clear–rivers no longer catch fire, and the streams and wetlands that are so crucial to the health of waterbodies have been protected against degradation or destruction. 

Thanks to the Clean Water Act, waters are cleaner today than they were in 1972 and progress is continuing—although maybe not always as fast as we’d like.

Yet, in an apparent effort to serve their own conservative ideology, five members of the Supreme Court decided to ignore the law, to ignore the science, and to ignore over fifty years of success in protecting clean water in their Sackett decision.

Today, we’ll discuss the implications of this decision and what this means for the future of clean water.

We should all be concerned with the potential impacts of the Sackett decision.

This ruling is likely to cause more damage to the protection of clean water than the Trump Dirty Water Rule–a failed effort that would have removed protection on 50% of our nation’s wetlands and 70% of our nation’s streams.

Some will say that the Court got it right and that everything will be just fine because states will simply do the right thing and fill in the gaps.

Yet, if the trend of the last few years continues, the battle for clean water may now be changing to the state and local level where polluters will continue their push to remove clean water protections at every chance.

And, unfortunately, this is not an academic issue, as every decreasing level of clean water protection comes at a cost.

A cost to our communities in terms of increased flooding, decreased water availability, or degraded water quality.

A cost to American families who will have to pay more for access clean water, if that water it is even available.

A cost to our economy and to the farmers, businesses, and industries that lose reliable access to clean water.

A cost to states and tribes who now must shoulder a greater burden without additional resources.

And a cost to our natural environment and our clean water future.

I want to recognize the Ranking Democrat of the Full Committee, Mr. Larsen, for any remarks he may have.