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Bush water follies

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They're at it again. With Americans riveted to events unfolding in Iraq, the Bush administration has somehow found time to launch an assault on the nation's preeminent clean-water law.

For 30 years, the Clean Water Act has served as the nation's major defense against the pollution of inland and ocean waters. Now, in a year that President Bush has declared the "Year of Clean Water," his administration is arguing that this landmark law should no longer apply to all waters, as Congress intended.

The White House actions are based on a narrow Supreme Court ruling from January 2001 that said Clean Water Act protections do not extend to certain "isolated" wetlands and ponds. The Supreme Court didn't provide a thorough definition of "isolated," nor did it identify what qualifies a wetland or pond for protection.

Seizing an opportunity to exempt broad swaths of American waters from federal protection, the administration launcheda process in January that could significantly limit regulation of "isolated" waters and give the White House power to decide exactly what "isolated" means. Even worse, the administration has demanded that federal agencies immediately suspend protection of many of these waters.

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