(October 18, 2007) – Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, one of the nation’s most prominent and successful environmental laws. On this anniversary, NRDC’s Executive Director Peter Lehner will appear before a Congressional committee to tout the law’s successes but also remind leaders that all is not well with the current Clean Water Act.
“It is important to keep in mind that water resources belong to us all,” said Lehner. “All lives are enriched by having access to clean, safe waterways. We are blessed in the United States with abundant, natural water supplies that support healthy ecosystems as well as a variety of human uses – swimming, fishing, boating, drinking water, irrigation, industry, and spiritual uses. Yet today we often treat water as worthless.”
“The anniversary is a time to celebrate the achievements of the law but also to face the nation’s future water quality challenges head-on,” Lehner said. “One particular difficulty today is that recent interpretations of the law have created significant doubt about which kinds of water bodies are covered by the law’s core programs.”
The Clean Water Act was designed with the intent to protect a wide range of the nation’s waters from pollution, without regard to whether they support boat traffic. However, two recent Supreme Court cases have created confusion about whether water bodies need to demonstrate a link to navigable waters to qualify for protection. The Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421/S. 1870), introduced in the House by Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) and in the Senate by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), will state clearly that waters historically protected by the law should remain so. In the House, the bill is currently co-sponsored by nearly 170 other Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
The hearing and anniversary are timely, as two recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) demonstrate that the Clean Water Act needs better implementation and help from other federal programs to address emerging water pollution issues. On October 10 and October 16, NAS released reports examining the impact of biofuels production on water quality and looked at how Clean Water Act tools could be used to improve water quality in the Mississippi River and northern Gulf of Mexico. NAS found that EPA had failed to use available authority under the law to improve conditions along the Mississippi, and that increased biofuels production has the potential to exacerbate existing pollution problems.
“EPA and Congress should re-dedicate themselves today to clean water,” said Lehner. “The agency needs to implement the law, not ignore it, and Congress can improve the nation’s water quality by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act, enhancing funding and targeting for Farm Bill conservation programs, and including environmental performance requirements along with biofuel production policies.”