Renewing America’s commitment to clean water

12-14-2011 // Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation

This excerpt is from The Hill

Nearly forty years ago, Republicans and Democrats passed the Clean Water Act to keep our river, lakes, streams and wetlands from becoming open sewers and garbage dumps that burned from a whirlpool of nasty chemicals.  Lawmakers understood clean water meant healthy people, a healthy economy and a healthy environment.

Ultimately, they also understood that these factors ensured a stronger country. Protecting clean water wasn’t controversial – it was commonsense.

Americans still care about keeping their water safe. In a Gallup Poll released earlier this year, they listed clean water as their top environmental concern. Restoring the Clean Water Act is in keeping with the wisdom of decades past and the current needs of our country. Protecting our waters and wetlands also honors a longstanding commitment to future generations of Americans. It is time for the Administration to move forward and sustain that legacy by restoring longstanding Clean Water Act protections for the Nation’s wetlands, lakes and streams.

Murky Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC (2001) and RAPANOS (2006) and conflicting agency guidance are eroding the Clean Water Act and putting millions of acres of wetlands and streams at risk. Tributaries and wetlands that provide clean water to iconic systems like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin and Delta are in jeopardy. These waters supply at least some of the drinking water for 117 million Americans and provide important fish and wildlife habitats that fuel local economies and support outdoor traditions across the country. As these resources are polluted and diminished, so are the tremendous natural and public health benefits they provide, including food and flood protection.

New guidance from the Administration will clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act and remove confusion for landowners, conservationists and state and local agencies. Providing a stronger, clearer definition of “Waters of the United States” through new guidance and rulemaking is a policy based on commonsense and common ground between conservation and industry interests.

The Corps and EPA took a positive first step this year by submitting draft guidance for public comment. Their proposal respects the Supreme Court’s rulings and related science. To protect America’s waters, in keeping with the Clean Water Act, this guidance must be finalized quickly. The agencies must initiate also a vigorous and transparent rulemaking process to clarify and reinforce the safeguards and scope of the Clean Water Act for landowners, developers, conservationists and state and federal agencies.

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