Rules to lower the levels of arsenic in drinking water and establish roadless areas in national forests are two high-profile Clinton-era environmental decisions now on hold.
The decision comes as the Bush administration is feeling heat about its reversal on carbon dioxide emissions and concern that it is acquiring an anti-environmental image.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said Monday, "The Bush administration is committed to keeping our waterways clean and safe. The protection of America's vanishing wetlands is a vital step toward ensuring cleaner water for everyone. In addition to serving as habitat for wildlife, wetlands help filter and protect our country's water supply. Today's action will help preserve our wetlands for ourselves and for future generations."
A loophole in the Clean Water Act of 1972, allowed dredging during development in many wetland areas as long as the developer did not dump the dredged material back into the wetland. The loophole was closed in 1993 but subsequent court cases were decided in favor of developers enabling dredging to continue.
In fact, an industry grew up around manufacturing equipment specifically designed enable development within the narrow letter of the government regulation. The rule was re-written toward the end of the Clinton administration to prevent developers from dredging and bulldozing wetlands but escaping regulation simply by carting the dredged material away.
One of the nation's premier environmental groups had faint praise for the decision. Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said, "We support the Bush administration's decision to not weaken wetlands protections. Recent polls show that Americans oppose President Bush's attacks on clean air and drinking water. Given that Earth Day is coming up, it's nice to see a positive decision in a host of bad environmental news coming from the White House."
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer issued a statement saying, "The president applauds EPA Administrator Whitman's decision to move forward with pending regulations to protect our wetlands."
Environmental groups are calling on Congress to amend the Clean Water Act so as to prevent what they see as further end-runs around the legislation.
The Sierra Club estimated that from 1998 to 2000, 150 miles (240 kilometers) of streams and 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) of wetlands habitat were lost.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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