Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

March 1, 1996

Swamped With Cash: Introduction: Swamped With Cash

Since 1990, a coalition of industry groups seeking to weaken federal protection of wetlands has backed legislation to dismantle the Clean Water Act. In the past year, the efforts of the industry coalition intensified dramatically, culminating in the passage of a sweeping wetlands deregulation package as part of a comprehensive bill, H.R. 961, which effectively repeals the Clean Water Act. This bill was approved by the House of Representatives in May of 1995.

In the Senate, a wetlands deregulation bill (S. 851), introduced by Senators J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) and Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), currently has 21 cosponsors. The Senate Environment committee is expected to act on wetlands legislation this spring. As this report goes to press, S. 851 is the only major Clean Water Act wetlands bill pending before the Senate. (See Note 1.)

Soon after the passage of the House wetlands deregulation bill, the government agencies responsible for implementing federal wetlands policies--the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service--undertook a series of field tests and evaluations to determine the on-the-ground effects of H.R. 961 and S. 851. The federal agency staff, joined in many cases by state officials and private consultants, evaluated the standards in the two bills for determining what is and what is not a wetland. The evaluation teams did not attempt to judge the ramifications of the many loopholes and exemptions for specific industries contained in the two bills. Instead, the teams simply estimated how many acres of existing wetlands--areas that are widely recognized as wetlands by scientists--would still qualify as "wetlands" under the proposed bills.


1. Senator John Chafee, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to address wetlands issues as part of a comprehensive Clean Water bill this year.