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The nation's original 'environmental' statute

Read the law, then decide for yourself: 
Is G.E. lying when it says it 'legally' discharged PCB's into the Hudson River from 1946 until 1974?
The following 101-year-old federal law, 'Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899', is the nation's original 'environmental' statute. A lot of people refer to it, but few actually know what it says. 

When this Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President William McKinley, what is then the Edison General Electric Company, formed in 1889, is already ten years old. 

There were some earlier incarnations of this Act, but this is the version which is the law of the land in 1946 when General Electric Company begins discharging PCB's into the Hudson River. 

The 1899 Act is still on the books today and is the precursor for the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Two sections: Section 10, the part of the 1899 law which deals with modifying the 'condition.....of any navigable water'; and Section 13, the part of the law which deals with 'deposit of refuse in navigable waters', are displayed here. 


'Rivers and Harbors
Appropriation Act of 1899' --
Section 10

United States Code TITLE 33, Chapter 9, Section 403
(33 U.S.C. 403; 30 Stat. 1151)

33 U.S.C. 403.  Obstruction of navigable waters generally; wharves; piers, etc.; excavations and filling in 
That the creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States is hereby prohibited; and it shall not be lawful to build or commence the building of any wharf, pier, dolphin, boom, weir, breakwater, bulkhead, jetty, or other structures in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, navigable river, or other water of the United States, outside established harbor lines, or where no harbor lines have been established, except on plans recommended by the Chief of Engineers and authorized by the Secretary of War; 

and it shall not be lawful to excavate or fill, or in any manner to alter or modify the course, location, condition, or capacity of, any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, lake, harbor of refuge, or inclosure within the limits of any breakwater, or of the channel of any navigable water of the United States, unless the work has been recommended by the Chief of Engineers and authorized by the Secretary of War prior to beginning the same.


About Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899
Under Section 10 of this Act, Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. 403; Chapter 425, March 3, 1899; 30 Stat. 1151), the building of any wharfs, piers, jetties, and other structures is prohibited without Congressional approval, and excavation or fill within navigable waters requires the approval of the Chief of Engineers. Under Section 10, federal agency concerns include contaminated sediments associated with dredge or fill projects in navigable waters. 


Section 13

United States Code TITLE 33, Chapter 9, Section 407
(33 U.S.C. 407; 30 Stat. 1152)

33 U.S.C. 407.  Deposit of refuse in navigable waters generally
It shall not be lawful to throw, discharge, or deposit, or cause, suffer, or procure to be thrown,
discharged, or deposited either from or out of any ship, barge, or other floating craft of any kind, or from the shore, wharf, manufacturing establishment, or mill of any kind, any refuse matter of any kind or description whatever other than that flowing from streets and sewers and passing therefrom in a liquid state, into any navigable water of the United States, or into any tributary of any navigable water from which the same shall float or be washed into such navigable water;

and it shall not be lawful to deposit, or cause, suffer, or procure to be deposited material of any kind in any place on the bank of any navigable water, or on the bank of any tributary of any navigable water, where the same shall be liable to be washed into such navigable water, either by ordinary or high tides, or by storms or floods, or otherwise, whereby navigation shall or may be impeded or obstructed: 

Provided, That nothing herein contained shall extend to, apply to, or prohibit the operations in connection with the improvement of navigable waters or construction of public works, considered necessary and proper by the United States officers supervising such improvement or public work: 

And provided further, That the Secretary of the Army, whenever in the judgment of the Chief of Engineers anchorage and navigation will not be injured thereby, may permit the deposit of any material above mentioned in navigable waters, within limits to be defined and under conditions to be prescribed by him, provided application is made to him prior to depositing such material; and whenever any permit is so granted the conditions thereof shall be strictly complied with, and any violation thereof shall be unlawful. 


About Section 13 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899
Authority of the Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the discharge of refuse matter into or affecting navigable waters under Section 13 of the 1899 Act (33 U.S.C. 407; 30 Stat. 1152) was modified by title IV of P.L. 92-500, October 18, 1972, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (33 U.S.C. 1341-1345; 86 Stat. 877), as amended, which established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permits. 

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