The Clean Water Act has been the law of the land since 1972. It is arguably the most successful environmental law ever passed. A generation of Americans has grown up taking clean water for granted and that is, in some ways, not a bad thing. They weren't expecting their rivers to catch on fire, their beaches to be closed or their tap water to be dangerous. The best public policy victories are those which permeate society so thoroughly that they become the underlying assumption for the Way Things Are. The Clean Water Act is the ultimate example of such a law.
And the Clean Water Act is not just a single law, but a robust body of public policy decisions and rule making, worked out over decades to accommodate the core principles of the law and the practical challenges faced by agriculture, development, manufacturers, energy providers and others who make use of this precious resource of the global commons.
That's how it worked until the Bush administration began to undermine core principles of the law through administrative edicts. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement slowed down to a trickle then stopped. Even more damage was done when the Supreme Court, in two poorly rendered decisions, further muddied the intention of the original law and sought to exclude from protection much of the water that ultimately becomes drinking water for all of us. Confusion and chaos reigned as the Army Corps of Engineers set out to decimate "geographically isolated" waters on the grounds that they were not covered by the act.
The damage inflicted on the Clean Water Act over the last nine years is at last being addressed. The EPA has issued a new set of aspirational goals for how we protect our water and has begun more aggressive enforcement against violators. Now Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has introduced the America's Commitment To Clean Water Act to further restore common sense and the vital protections we all rely on to ensure delivery of safe and clean, drinkable, swimable and fishable water. The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation last year.
We are looking forward to the committee's action on this bill so that serious debate can begin on how best to repair the damage to one of our most important public health and environmental laws. Clean water is THE top priority for Clean Water Action and should be for all Americans. Stay tuned in the weeks to come to find out how you can play an important role in securing this critical legislative victory.