When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, our nation’s waters were in trouble. Lake Erie was virtually dead, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, and the Androscoggin River in Maine was so polluted it peeled paint on nearby buildings.
Many of America’s waters had become little more than lifeless, open sewers.
Who would want to return to those days of polluted, dirty rivers? Nobody, it seems, except possibly the agency in charge of protecting our waters.
After nearly a half-century of success in collaborating with states to implement the Clean Water Act, the United States has just experienced the dirtiest week for water in the Environmental Protection Agency’s history.
First, the EPA closed a notably short period for public comment on a proposed rule that would eliminate protections for half of America’s wetlands and countless miles of smaller streams. These waterways provide drinking water for millions and serve as the lifeblood of larger streams and rivers. This rule denies the basic science that water flows downhill and that pollution upstream ends up in larger rivers.
The EPA also announced in an “interpretive statement” that Clean Water Act protections would no longer apply to pollution or sewage discharged into underground wells or aquifers. This is even if the polluted discharge flows directly into drinking water sources such as lakes or rivers.
And finally, all this happened within days of an order from President Trump instructing the EPA to tie states’ hands in protecting local water quality by constraining the time and information they have to decide whether to approve or veto polluting projects. This action will limit the ability of states to object to federally permitted projects, like new reservoirs or oil and gas pipelines, which can be harmful to water quality.
The public opposes these types of attacks on the nation’s waters. More than half a million Americans spoke out against the proposed reductions to the scope of the Clean Water Act — despite the short public comment period. Many believe we cannot do without clean drinking water. And we can’t afford to have an administration or an EPA that are willing to risk the health and well-being of all Americans to benefit a few industries that seek to profit from fouling our waters.