Legislative initiatives to comprehensively amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) have stalled for some time as interested parties have debated whether and exactly how to change the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on narrow bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs, rather than taking up comprehensive proposals. In the 109th Congress, two such bills were enacted: a bill extending authorizations for the Long Island Sound program (H.R. 3963, P.L. 109137), and another concerning the Lake Pontchartrain Basin (H.R. 6121, P.L. 109392). The House also passed H.R. 1721, a bill to reauthorize coastal water quality programs, and several other CWA bills were reported by House and Senate committees (including H.R. 4126, concerning the Chesapeake Bay; and S. 2781, concerning wastewater facility security). A free-standing bill intended to promote remediation of abandoned hardrock mines (S. 1848), which would affect CWA requirements for such projects, also was reported but not passed. Following Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005, the Senate passed legislation to streamline delivery of funds to repair storm-damaged sewage treatment plants (S. 1709). Other bills intended to simplify environmental review of recovery and rebuilding projects also were introduced (S. 1711, S. 1765/S. 1766). None of these was enacted. For several years, the most prominent legislative water quality issue has concerned financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment projects. At issue is how the federal government will assist states and cities in meeting needs to rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants, especially in light of capital costs that are projected to be as much as $390 billion over the next two decades. In the 109th Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S. 1400, a bill authorizing $20 billion in federal grants to capitalize state clean water infrastructure loan programs. A House committee approved bills to reauthorize
other Clean Water Act programs: H.R. 624 would have provided $1.5 billion in grants over six years for sewer overflow projects; and H.R. 1359 would have extended a pilot program for alternative water source projects. None of these bills was passed. Other Clean Water Act issues have received attention from numerous stakeholders, but were not considered by the 109th Congress. In particular, programs that regulate activities in wetlands, especially CWA Section 404, have been criticized by landowners for intruding on private land-use decisions and imposing excessive economic burdens. Environmentalists view these programs as essential for maintaining the health of wetland ecosystems. These groups are concerned about a 2001 Supreme Court decision, the SWANCC case, that narrowed regulatory protection of wetlands, a 2006 Court ruling that also addressed the regulatory jurisdiction of Section 404, and related administrative actions, including 2003 policy guidance intended to interpret the SWANCC case. Legislation to reverse the SWANCC ruling (H.R. 1356/S. 912, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act), and another bill to narrow the government's regulatory jurisdiction (H.R. 2658, the Federal Wetlands Jurisdiction Act), were introduced but were not enacted.