A House-passed rewrite of the nation's premier clean water law faces an uncertain future in the Senate where moderates are expected to balk at its rollback of wetlands protection and easing of pollution controls on industry.
The House passed the sweeping legislation by a 240-185 vote Tuesday after supporters argued the 1972 Clean Water Act is too costly to industry and local governments, gives too much power to federal bureaucrats and is unfair to property owners.Utah Reps. Jim Hansen, Bill Orton and Enid Waldholtz voted for the measure.
The bill was denounced by Democratic and Republican moderates, as well as the Clinton administration, as an extreme measure that would roll back two decades of water quality improvements. But it gained the support of a solid coalition of 195 Republicans and 45 Democrats, many of whom complained about the impact wetland protections are having on farmers and other landowners.
But Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the bill's chief sponsor, characterized opponents as "extreme environmentalists" and derided suggestions that water pol-lu-tion would be increased.
"The people at the local level have a better understanding of their water quality affairs than self-important bureaucrats" in Washington," Shuster insisted.
The legislation would revamp the federal government's protection of waterways from urban, industrial and farmland pollution, giving local officials a greater say in meeting water quality standards.
Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said the changes "turn back the clock" in protecting lakes and streams from polluters and "fundamentally weaken one of the nation's most successful en-vi-ron-mental laws."
Bonior said he expected a presidential veto if the bill should survive the Senate and noted the margin of victory - though substantial - was short of what would be needed to be veto-proof.
The bill was expected to have a tougher time in the Senate, where Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., chairman of the Environment Committee that would consider the bill, views it as far too extreme. Any comparable bill in the Senate also probably would face a Democratic filibuster.
Of all the House bill's provisions, the section on wetlands attracted the most controversy and most heated debate.
The bill would narrow the definition of a wetland, requiring that surface water be found on the land for 21 consecutive days before it can qualify for protection. The National Academy of Sciences in a report released last week said such a definition has no scientific basis and would leave many legitimate wetlands unprotected.
The bill also would categorize wetlands as to degrees of protection and require the government to compensate landowners if a wetland reduces property values.