Clean Water Matters

Congress lately has been hell bent on eviscerating a hallmark piece of American environmental legislation -- the Clean Water Act.
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That title -- as a statement -- should be a no-brainer. Water makes up 60% of our body, 70% of our brain, and 80% of our blood; clean water certainly DOES matter. And who can argue against everyone's right to clean water for swimming, drinking, and fishing?

It turns out that some members of Congress DO take exception to that statement. In fact, Congress lately has been hell bent on eviscerating a hallmark piece of American environmental legislation -- the Clean Water Act. This law, which serves as a model for environmental legislation world wide, has been responsible for revitalizing streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and bays across the nation, including iconic waterways like the Hudson River, which -- due to catastrophic pollution -- was a national laughingstock in the 1960s. The Clean Water Act is the most effective tool we have to protect our right to clean water. And now the Act is under assault.

You may know that this July, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2018, which would strip EPA's powers to set national clean water standards and set up a race to the bottom for polluter friendly states to court irresponsible industry. H.R. 2018 is the most audacious attempt by Congress to gut the Clean Water Act and attack our right to clean water. Communities across the country are rallying to ensure the Senate isn't as short-sighted as our representatives. And fortunately, President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

Yet, the attacks don't stop there. The polluters' lackeys in Congress are serious about dismantling environmental protection, and are attacking our clean water protections from multiple angles. For example, The U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved H.R. 872, a bill euphemistically entitled "the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011", that will allow polluters to spray pesticides in our waters without offering the protection of the Clean Water Act, despite a court ruling indicating that the such activities would require a Clean Water Act permit from the EPA. Additionally, the bipartisan H.R. 2541 -- "The Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act" -- would exempt from the Clean Water Act water pollution from logging activities -- again contravening a court ruling that a Clean Water Act permit is required.

Despite the successes of the Clean Water Act, many of our waterways remain in decline. Critics -- and by critics, I mean those in the employ of polluting industries -- point to these declines as demonstrated failures of the Clean Water Act. It's an interesting point of view, as the decline in water quality in these examples is due, most commonly, to industry efforts to avoid compliance with the law, and a failure of local authorities to enforce environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act. If anything, these declines prove that the time is now to strengthen the Act and step up enforcement, rather than eviscerate the law ensuring that our waters stay safe. Everyone has the right to clean water for swimming, fishing, and drinking.

On October 18, 2012, the Clean Water Act turns 40-years-old. We have just over one year as a nation to decide if we truly believe in everyone's basic and fundamental right to clean water. To show that clean water matters, you'll need to call your Congressperson, and urge them to protect your rights, not the rights of corporate polluters. It's important that you do this, and that you motivate the people you know to do the same.

The health of the environment, the health of the people and the health of our economies are tightly interwoven. If the people win this battle, we will reject the false choice between economic development and environmental protection that some members of Congress are pushing. If the people win this battle, we ensure our own health and our nation's economic growth. But, if polluters and their political cronies win this battle, we allow the industries that pollute the most to take control of our destiny. We not only say goodbye to 40 years of progress, we say goodbye to our future.

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