Editorial: 50 years later, the Clean Water Act is under assault
If this sounds familiar, it should.
This year, members of Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency are once again on the hunt for a new law to “save” the nation’s largest freshwater systems from over-development.
They talk the talk. They act the part. But the dirty hands of polluters have already reached back into the law for their own profit. By the end of the year, many of our nation’s largest lakes, rivers and other water systems will be experiencing the adverse effects of a century of misguided legislation and regulatory over-reach.
The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 as a response to the nation’s first major environmental disaster: the oil spill off the Texas coast. When President Richard Nixon tried to prevent communities from developing small, isolated ponds and lakes to collect storm water and protect their health, the Clean Water Act was his response.
The act, which protects nearly 2,200 waterways across 33 states, is the nation’s oldest and most comprehensive water-protection law. It is also one of the most abused.
As lawmakers work on the next round of the so-called “watershed bills” to create a new clean water law on a national scale, their focus is often on protecting large, urban water bodies. These systems — like the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state — are the largest single generators of waste and pollution in the nation’s largest cities.
The Clean Water Act doesn’t recognize the value and environmental benefits of these urban water systems.
For decades, cities have been encouraged by the National Park Service to develop park systems in their downtowns and neighborhoods — and the government has given them the money to do so. The law gives communities and businesses money in subsidies to clean and maintain their parks, but it doesn’t require that they use these resources wisely or in a manner that would benefit the larger environment in which they are located.