This month marks the 40th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, passed on Oct. 18, 1972, and it is under constant threat by congressional Republicans who have repeatedly attempted to roll back vital protections.
Instead of turning back the clock, America should build on clean water achievements by managing storm water pollution with green infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is ready to update its 20-year-old standards for dealing with storm water under the Clean Water Act in the coming year, is being pushed by environmental groups to seize this opportunity and use its authority to incentivize and expand the deployment of green infrastructure in new, stronger storm water standards.
Protection for isolated wetlands and headwater streams also must be strengthened following two harmful Supreme Court decisions and policy rollbacks by the Bush administration. The Obama administration has the authority to improve protections for headwater streams and wetlands and has drafted guidelines that far better reflect the law and incorporate the science than the Bush guidelines. The president needs to issue the new guidelines.
The Clean Water Act has been a vital tool. It is the piece of defining legislation that allows Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and others to protect and restore our natural resources. Without the protections of the act, all of the investment that is going into our region’s waterfront will be in jeopardy. This is not only the case in the Western New York region but throughout the Great Lakes.
It is disconcerting to see the coordinated attacks within Congress to gut parts of the Clean Water Act and other federal legislation that provides environmental protection. House Republicans, particularly in the coal states, have introduced legislation that scarcely disguises their attempts at gutting environmental protections.
The GOP introduced a bill titled the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act that would erode the federal government’s ability to step in when state water quality standards are not strong enough to protect public health. The bill, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, would make it easier for coal companies to dump their mine waste into rivers and streams. It will also remove the directive that ensures states meet and implement minimum provisions to protect water quality.
Before the Clean Water Act, America had polluted rivers that occasionally caught fire, including Buffalo’s. With the creation of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and other umbrella pieces of legislation came safe drinking water and natural improvement in many of the ecosystems throughout the Great Lakes and the country. Work is continuing on cleaning up the Buffalo River, but historical contamination makes the task challenging.
The “blue economy” that focuses on utilizing water as a driving force for revitalization is more than just academic. It prioritizes the water and the waterfront as the key pieces for economic revitalization. It deserves protection from a healthy and robust Clean Water Act.