By Rhea Suh, President, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Republican leadership in Congress has teed up a showdown with the Obama administration that pits big polluters against the basic American right to clean water.
The GOP-led House sided earlier this month with the polluters.
We’re counting on the Senate to stand up for clean water. At stake is the future of wetlands, headwaters, and brooks, including the kinds of streams relied on for drinking water by one out of every three Americans.
We can’t put that up for grabs.
For more than four decades, American waters have been protected by the Clean Water Act, passed by overwhelming Republican and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 1972.
In recent years, though, this important law has come under withering attack by oil and gas companies, shopping-center builders, Big Agriculture, and others that want to weaken the protections the law provides.
In essence, these groups claim the Clean Water Act shouldn’t apply to nearly two million miles of streams and tens of millions of acres of wetlands because these bodies of water are too remote, too small, or too dependent on seasonal rains to count.
That, of course, is nonsense.
Even mighty rivers start out small and remote, taking on volume from wetlands and tributaries as water flows downhill. Pollution at any point along the journey threatens all the waters downstream.
That’s why state and local officials, members of Congress, advocates for industry, agriculture, the environment, and others, as well as members of the public at large, have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify the reach of the Clean Water Act.
The agencies have participated in more than 400 meetings on the issue nationwide. Over just the past year, they’ve reviewed more than one million comments from people who depend on clean water for things like raising food, running their businesses, attracting tourism, and fishing and hunting.
And here’s what they’ve found: 87 percent of the people who commented want the waters of America protected. That’s exactly what the agencies have in mind with a new standard made final on May 27.
Unless the polluters and their congressional allies get their way.
The opponents didn’t need to see the final rule to vote against the measure, putting polluter profits first – and putting our drinking water at risk.
Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
The Clean Water Rule, though, needs to go forward without further congressional obstruction or delay. Its protections will provide the country with up to $514 million worth of benefits every single year, the EPA estimates.
The wetlands and waterways that this rule will defend help protect our communities from flooding. They filter industrial, agricultural, and urban pollutants out of our water. They provide habitat for wildlife. And they help to recharge groundwater supplies.
Water is the foundation of life. What threatens that imperils us all.
We need our Senate to put our future first, put this pernicious legislation to bed, and let the people who keep our water clean do the job we’re counting on them to do.