Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)

A major revision of the seminal 1972 Clean Water Act became law on February 4, 1987, when Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Reagan’s veto of the bill.  The revision added major new elements to water pollution control—and demonstrated the nation’s commitment to the environment.

Photo by USDA

The revision to the Clean Water Act was the first bill introduced into Congress in 1987—HR1—a major victory for conservation and the environment.  The bill was identical to one passed nearly unanimously by Congress the preceding October, but which died when President Reagan failed to sign it within the required ten days.  The so-called “pocket veto” worked because Congress had adjourned and could not schedule an override vote.  Reagan vetoed the bill, then and in 1987, because he considered it a budget-busting extravagance.  Controlling federal spending, he thought, was more important than controlling water pollution:  the “issue facing me today does not concern the ensuring of clean water for future generations.  The real issue is in the federal deficit….”

Aquatic biologists collecting water samples (photo by Eric Vance, USEPA)

He judged wrongly.  Ensuring clean water was more important.  When Congress returned, they quickly passed the bill in both houses and sent it to the president.  He vetoed the bill on January 30.  The House overrode the veto on February 3, and the Senate on February 4.

The revisions to the Clean Water Act were significant:

  • Authorized $18 billion for grants and loans to local municipalities to build improved water treatment plants. By doing so, the act overcame local funding issues that had impaired the clean-up of discharges from sewerage systems, especially in smaller communities.

    Aerators like this are part of water treatment plants in municipalities, enhanced by the Clean Water Act revisions (photo by Annabel)
  • Created special programs to address pollution in major water bodies, including Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and Boston Harbor.
  • Established a National Estuarine Program to begin protection of the country’s brackish water systems.
  • Furthered efforts to control non-point pollution, requiring states to develop their own management programs including “best management practices.”

References:

Congressional Quarterly.  1988.  Congress Overrides Clean-Water Bill Veto.  CQ Almanac 1987, 43:291-296.  Available at:  https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal87-1144980.  Accessed February 1, 2018.

Liebesman, Lawrence R. and Elliott P. Laws.  1987.  The Water Quality Act of `1987:  A Major Step in Assuring the Quality of the Nation’s Waters.  Environmental Law Reporter 17:10311-10329.  Available at:  https://elr.info/sites/default/files/articles/17.10311.htm.  Accessed February 1, 2018.

Weinraub, Bernard.  1987.  Clean Water Bill Passed by House over Reagan Veto.  The New York Times, February 4, 1987.  Available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/04/us/clean-water-bill-passed-by-house-over-reagan-veto.html.  Accessed February 1, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

September 1
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September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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