As Jon Devine details in his NRDC blog, the EPA could do far more to protect our national waterways, it just hasn’t exercised those rights. Why? Because doing so would mean disrupting some of the dirtiest and most politically entrenched industries in our nation: Big Coal, Big Agriculture, commercial fishing, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
It’s also important to realize that while the Clean Water Act was a landmark achievement in 1972, a lot has changed since then. Polluters have become better at covering their tracks. New types of contamination have been discovered. As it stands, the Clean Water Act is toothless against these new threats.
“The Clean Water Act was a great piece of legislation when it was passed in 1972,” writes Todd L. Ambs, President of the River Network, “but this law in its current form will not enable us to achieve the physical and biological integrity goals that produce truly healthy waterways. It is time to consider amending the Federal Water Pollution Control Act again to bring it into the 21st century.”
Let your mind wander to 2052. The Clean Water Act, if it still exists, will be 80 years old. Will that be an America where it’s still safe to splash in the ocean, fish in local rivers, or take your canoe out into local lakes? Or will that be a country where coal-fired power plants are free to dump their toxic ash and wastewater without fear of consequence? Will our oceans be vibrant and teeming with life? Or suffocated to death by the runoff of pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste?
Just like 40 years ago, WE THE PEOPLE have the chance to decide what happens to our water. We have the power to demand new legislation that addresses new threats and an EPA that will enforce it. How? By caring. By getting involved with local groups taking action on local issues. By getting educated about companies who pollute our water. And most importantly, by voting for Congressional representatives who realize, like they did 40 years ago, that clean water is never a partisan issue.
If you’re not sure we can do it, or that we should even try, you’re not alone. The same uncertainty existed 40 years ago. And here’s what Senator Ed Muskie of Maine, one of the Clean Water Act’s chief authors, asked the country at that time.
“Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make possible life on this planet? Can we afford life itself?”
Those questions were never asked as we destroyed the waters of our Nation, and they deserve no answers as we finally move to restore and renew them. These questions answer themselves. And those who say that raising the amounts of money called for in this legislation may require higher taxes, or that spending this much money may contribute to inflation simply do not understand the language of this crisis.”
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