The Clean Water Act -- 42 Birthday Candles and Half a Million Americans Who Support It

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Forty-two years ago this past Saturday, Congress passed the law known today as the Clean Water Act.  I salute their forethought and bipartisan leadership, not just because I make my living implementing that law, but because it has helped to restore waters that are special to me. 

I grew up in Massachusetts, where the water pollution was so bad in Boston Harbor and the Charles River that the Standells’ “Dirty Water” became the city’s unofficial anthem.  I remember going into Boston on a boat for Fourth of July fireworks and my mom telling me not to touch the Charles.  My family also spent a lot of weekends by the Pemigewasset River in New Hampshire, which “was for years one of the most polluted rivers in New England, the repository for raw sewage from factories and towns,” and which “emitted an overwhelming odor and was known to peel the paint off buildings located on its banks.”  Today, these water bodies are significantly improved – thanks in part to the Clean Water Act’s requirements limiting pollution into the nation’s waters.  My sisters and I could swim in the Pemigewasset, and when we took a “duck boat” tour of Boston a few years back, I didn’t have to warn my own kids not to touch the water.

Despite the law’s successes, it is under attack today.  Many waters around the country are at risk of becoming polluted because a pair of Supreme Court decisions and policies implemented by the prior administration left the status of small streams and wetlands in legal limbo.  As a result, it is unclear today whether the law protects these kinds of resources from pollution or destruction, even though they help provide drinking water for one in three Americans.  I’ve discussed this problem more times than I care to count, dating from my very first post on this site seven years ago.

We’re hopeful that this mess will soon be cleared up and this dangerous loophole will be fixed, thanks to the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Water Protection Rule.  Sadly, a daunting lineup of industry lobby groups have joined together to attack the proposal.  I’ve previously posted an overview of the clean water proposal, as well as a number of blogs responding to the misinformation campaign that opponents have launched.

After many years of work on this issue, I’m extremely excited today to report that NRDC and other environmental groups, sportsmen, health advocates, and the sustainable business community are delivering more than 500,000 comments in support of the proposed clean water rule to the Environmental Protection Agency.  (Don’t fret about the trees – this is mostly a virtual, not paper, delivery.)  We’re announcing this milestone at an event along the Anacostia River in the Washington, D.C. area, another water body I am happy to report has been significantly improved thanks to the law.  Today’s event showcases the enormous support that Americans have for protective clean water policies.  It should be an inspiration to the Obama administration to keep moving forward to strengthen and finalize its proposal, and it should be a warning to polluters and their political allies on Capitol Hill that they risk alienating the public when they attack clean water.

To all of you who have commented and whose comments we’re delivering today – thank you!  Your involvement in this process is critical to getting a strong final set of protections in place.  And if you haven’t yet had the chance to weigh in, you can still do so, as the comment period on the rule was recently extended until November 14th.  You can take action to support it by clicking here