An Assault on the Clean Water Act


Sewage-choked Fountain Creek empties into the clear waters of the Arkansas
River in Pueblo, Colorado. Photo by Ross Vincent, Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club has long had activists in Washington, DC, working to enact laws and policies that will protect our air, land, and water. So while I had been thinking that the Republicans (and some Democrats) in the House of Representatives seemed particularly aggressive about attacking the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies and policies to repeal environmental laws, this quote from a colleague from one of those long-time activists cemented it:

"This is by far the most concerted, aggressive attack on public health and environmental protections since Congress enacted modern environmental laws in the 1970s."

While battles are being waged over the Endangered Species Act, wild lands policies, the Clean Air Act and more, I'm taking this column to focus on this week's assault on the Clean Water Act.

Since it began in 1972, the Clean Water Act has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from entering our waters and has doubled the number of waterways that meet good water-quality standards. Unfortunately right now the House is using a series of bills to attempt to gut the Clean Water Act.

At the top of the list is HR 2018 from Reps. Nick Rahall and John Mica, known as the so-called "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011." This bill would go a long way toward dismantling the Clean Water Act by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from ensuring that states are properly setting clean water standards and enforcing them. Sadly, this bill passed yesterday.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 because states were failing to clean up their water. While some states were doing a better job creating and enforcing clean water standards than others, Congress wanted to create a level playing field. States striving for cleaner water should not be put at an economic disadvantage to states who allow industries to pollute.

But the push for dirty water doesn't stop with HR 2018. An Energy and Water funding bill will be voted on this week and it also contains provisions to stop the administration from moving forward with Clean Water Act guidance.

And then yesterday the bad week for water continued as the Interior Appropriations bill passed out of committee including bad provisions on mountaintop removal coal mining, the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and safeguards for stormwater and pesticides in our waters.

Why are House members abandoning their constituents by supporting these bad bills? Americans want clean water. They don't want big businesses - especially polluters like the coal industry - calling the shots on clean water protections.

This backtracking on our clean water protections is out of step with the American public. Across the country, people want and expect our waterways to be protected and believe that clean water is an American value. According to a recent Gallup poll, clean water ranked as the environmental issue of greatest concern. In fact, clean water has ranked highest in every Gallup poll for the last 12 years.

Thankfully, we've had some champions for clean water this week, including Reps. Jim Moran, Tim Bishop, and Earl Blumenauer, who have spoken out repeatedly about how this nation must commit to protecting our water. And the Obama Administration has said it will veto HR 2018 because it undermines the Clean Water Act.

It's time for Americans to stand up to Congress's attack on clean water protections. Take action now to thank or shame your Representative for voting for or against HR 2018.
Read more on clean water:
Profit for Good: Carbon Credits Bring Clean Water to Rural Kenya
Clean Water: Who Has it and Who Doesn't (Infographic)
5 Innovative Ways Celebrities get Drinkable, Clean Water to Those Without

Tags: Drinking Water | Water Conservation