Final Clean Water Rule Will Protect Millions of Americans, Keep Our Water Clean
by Ronald White, 6/1/2015
Growing up next to the Hudson River in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, it was clear to me even as a child that the smelly, dirty brown water containing floating debris and animal carcasses was in dire need of clean up. The Clean Water Act, passed by Congress in 1972, has resulted in significant improvements in the health of our nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams. The Hudson River is substantially cleaner now and is included as part of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.
But the real surprise for me came when I camped out next to a small stream in upstate New York, which was a tributary to the Hudson River. The stark contrast between the pristine stream and the polluted Hudson I knew highlighted the importance of protecting the small bodies of water that feed the much larger rivers and lakes.
Protecting the small streams and wetlands that feed into our nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters is at the core of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent Clean Water Rule, announced on May 27.
Almost a decade in development, the rule clarifies the types of water bodies covered under Clean Water Act standards. The agency issued the rule in response to U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that created uncertainty regarding exactly which types of small water bodies were related to downstream traditional navigable waters such as rivers and thus were covered under the Clean Water Act. In developing the rule, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed over 1,000 scientific studies, held over 400 meetings with stakeholders, and reviewed over 1 million comments on the 2014 proposed rule.
The final rule provides clarity and certainty for businesses and industry, and more importantly, ensures protection for the 117 million Americans who get drinking water from streams that previously lacked clear protection standards.
It will also help protect the sensitive ecosystems that provide essential wildlife habitat, and it will provide healthy places for people to fish and swim. And clean water is essential for the manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and other engines of the economy.
The rule creates no new permitting requirements and expands the exemptions and exclusions for the agricultural industry that were in the old and proposed rules. Despite this, the agriculture, forestry, and ranching industries, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their proxies in Congress, have engaged in a major campaign to oppose and challenge the rule. However, as my colleague Amanda Frank noted in her May 21 blog post, 80 percent of American voters, including 94 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans, strongly support the rule.
While we have made substantial progress over the past four decades in reducing water pollution, much more needs to be done.
EPA estimates that more than one-half of our rivers and streams and almost 70 percent of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds that have been assessed qualify as “impaired” or “threatened” due to pollution. The Clean Water Rule is an essential part of the national effort to ensure that the water we drink and enjoy is safe – for Americans today and future generations. Those in Congress intent on undermining the rule should heed the public’s strong support for these protections, not industry’s self-interest.