Today, the Clean Water Act turns 35 years old. How 'bout a round of song?
Happy Birthday to you/Happy Birthday to you/Happy Birthday Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972/Happy Birthday to you! (For extra measure, my kids would chime in here with a half-screamed, half-sung, "cha-cha-cha, kumbaya, hi-ya!" and a flying karate chop. Please feel free to join in.)
Wow, thirty-five. It's old enough to be president. That's a bit ironic, because it became law when Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Nixon's veto and because the current President's administration has routinely undermined the law.
To celebrate the day, a House of Representatives committee held a hearing today to talk about the past successes of the Act and the challenges to come. What the discussion revealed is that a good law is necessary to environmental protection, but stopping pollution also requires leaders committed to carrying out the law.
We've had a lot of disappointments from this administration on clean water. Just this week, the National Academy of Sciences found that EPA had failed to take needed steps to protect one of the nation's signature water bodies -- the Mississippi River. A couple months ago, the Office of Surface Mining proposed to change its regulations to authorize coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop removal operations in nearby streams. The Army Corps of Engineers has adopted a new set of "quick-fill" nationwide permits for dozens of actvities that pollute or destroy water bodies. And EPA has proposed to weaken the pollution control requirements for animal factories and operations that pump polluted water from one water body to another. This, sadly, is a partial list.
This lack of leadership is part of what NRDC's Executive Director -- who testified at today's hearing -- described as a "midlife crisis" for the Clean Water Act. I love the metaphor -- though it hits a little close to home, it conjures up a mental image of someone that remembers what it was like to be fit, but needs to put down the remote, get off the couch, and go for a walk.
Today, I won't begrudge the government officials who are responsible for making our nation's water pollution policy having a little birthday cake. I do hope they'll take the Act out for a little exercise afterwards.