Clean Water at Risk
A 30th Anniversary Assessment of the Bush Administration's Rollback of Clean Water Protections
Passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 was a turning pointing in the effort to protect the nation's lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and other bodies of water. Without exception, these waterways play a crucial role in Americans' lives, providing drinking water and recreational opportunities; supporting tourism, commercial fishing, and a vast range of other economic pursuits; and providing habitat upon which every creature on the continent depends in some way.
Imperfect though its implementation has been, the Clean Water Act has been remarkably successful in cleaning up the bulk of the pollution sources that impair our nation's waters. While additional pollution sources need to be brought under control as well, protecting and continuing to use the traditional Clean Water Act tools -- tools that that have worked so well in the past -- is vital.
On this 30th anniversary of the act's passage, however, the Bush administration is working to undermine it, proposing or implementing a variety of measures that would leave some of the nation's waters completely unprotected, allow others to be used as waste dumps, reduce treatment requirements for sewage, allow more wetlands to be destroyed, and hamper efforts to clean up polluted waterways.
The nation cannot afford to allow its waters to become increasingly polluted and dangerous. Rather than leading a retreat from the national commitment to healthy and safe water, the Bush administration should focus on the business of cleaning and protecting the nation's water, move affirmatively to reinvigorate implementation and enforcement of existing provisions, and support efforts to repair the Clean Water Act's weaknesses.
EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman has identified clean water as her top environmental priority and has dubbed the upcoming year, "The Year of Clean Water." The Clean Water Network urges her to take actions consistent with her proclaimed commitment to clean water by:
- withdrawing the fill rule;
- implementing a true no-net-loss-of-wetlands policy;
- protecting the nation's waters from contaminated runoff from new development;
- requiring sewer operators to find, detect, control, and warn the public of raw sewage discharges; and
- preserving and protecting the current scope of the Clean Water Act and the polluted waters cleanup (TMDL) program.
These actions would stay the nation's course toward clean and safe water for all Americans. As Senator Muskie asked his colleagues in urging an override of President Nixon's veto of the Clean Water Act on Oct. 17, 1972:
"Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make life possible on this planet? Can we afford life itself? ... These questions answer themselves.127"
127. Legislative History at 122.
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