Before 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.
Nobody wants to return to the bad old days of polluted, dirty rivers. Nobody, it seems, except the very agency in charge of protecting our waters.
After nearly a half-century of successfully collaborating with states to implement the Clean Water Act, we have just experienced the dirtiest week for water in the Environmental Protection Agency’s history – a three-pronged attack on the Clean Water Act’s ability to keep our water safe and clean.
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 that 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. Similarly, wetlands are the filters and sponges of our aquatic systems. Allowing them to be drained and destroyed for parking lots, corn fields and other uses mean more pollution, larger floods and less habitat for wildlife.
But that was not all. 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 — even if the polluted discharge flows directly into drinking water sources such as lakes or rivers.
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 will limit […]