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Conservationists Thank Kaine, Warner For Wetlands Votes

Virginia conservationists say Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine may have cast the deciding votes in a favor of protecting U.S. wetlands. (Wetlands Watch)
Virginia conservationists say Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine may have cast the deciding votes in a favor of protecting U.S. wetlands. (Wetlands Watch)
December 28, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia conservationists are thanking Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner for crucial votes to protect wetlands. Real estate developers, mining companies and some farm groups have been pressing Congress to stop an Environmental Protection Agency decision defining the Waters of the U.S. rule.

The decision clarifies that many American wetlands that had been in legal limbo do qualify for Clean Water Act protections. Skip Stiles, executive director with Wetlands Watch, says there has been intense pressure on the senators to cast what could have been the deciding votes to undo it, possibly enough to override a threatened presidential veto.

"It was a very courageous stand for them," says Stiles. "It does mean a lot. It really did help keep the veto majority. Warner and Kaine are to be roundly congratulated for their votes."

Congressional Republicans and some Democrats say the Waters of The U.S. rule as interpreted by the EPA applies too broadly. An industry backed effort to deny EPA funding to enforce the rule passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

Real estate and coal mining companies want permission to impair or eliminate many wetlands on the edge of Virginia's coasts and watersheds. But Stiles says those will be in increasingly important as the impacts of climate change increase.

"The drought, the floods and the rest," he says. "If we don't keep these wetlands intact and in place, then in coming decades we're going to see significant consequences from this."

Stiles says since John Smith first landed, about half of the state's wetlands have been eliminated. He says protecting the remaining swamps, bogs and estuaries is important for both animal and human life.

"Wetlands provide habitat, a whole lot of flood protection, and a whole lot of water quality protection," says Stiles. "They basically filter out the pollutants before they can get into the streams, compromising drinking water quality."

Stiles says the debate is likely to return when Congress is back into session.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA