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

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
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January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
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January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
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January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
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