The Clean Water Act: Still Needed in the Real World, Despite Assaults in Congress

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On my bike ride into work today, I was stopped in my tracks by the scene pictured below – huge, billowing piles of some kind of foamy substance flowing out of a storm drain and into Four Mile Run, a stream that the bike path follows and that ultimately flows to the Potomac River.  (If you’re a local, here’s a map view of the area where it happened).  It’s hard to get a sense of the scale, but I would estimate that the largest mass of stuff was at least 10 feet high.  Because my kids play around (and, kids being kids, sometimes in) the stream, because I’ve seen people fishing from it, and because we let our dog swim in it, pollution in this little waterway hits close to home.

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This incident made me glad there’s a Clean Water Act, which turns 40 years old next month.  Acting under that law, Virginia officials will be able to penalize whoever is responsible if there was an unlawful discharge.  They likewise will be able to require measures to guard against it happening again.  Under the Act, my neighbors in Arlington can find out information about the source of the discharge and have opportunities to weigh in on what pollution controls should be used to prevent such occurrences.  In case state officials fail to remedy the problem, the Act has a number of backstop provisions allowing federal pollution control officials to take action. 

When I got to work, however, I was faced with a much more grim water pollution problem.  Today, the House of Representatives voted to gut the very law that provides so many tools to prevent and remedy the kinds of pollution I saw up close and personal.  Tucked into a hideous package of bills that the Republican leadership in the House falsely named the “Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act” was a bill equally falsely named the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011” – a bill that the White House accurately said “would roll back the key provisions of the CWA that have been the underpinning of 40 years of progress in making the Nation’s waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.”

The House passed this assault on the Clean Water Act this afternoon.  Please take a look at how your Representative voted and let them know what you think of that vote (the Representatives voting “aye” voted against clean water).  You can call Representatives’ offices directly or you can see if your Representative is holding any public forum soon, where you can share your opinions in person. 

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