EPA announces rules to protect clean water

By John Rumpler
Senior Attorney

More than 40 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act with a clear goal of making all of our rivers, lakes, streams, and other waters clean. Most Americans would be appalled to learn that a set of Supreme Court decisions created an open question as to whether thousands of our streams and wetlands across the country remain protected by the Act.

After the Rapanos decision in 2006, Environment America and our allies urged Congress to simply set the Supreme Court straight with plain language to protect all of America's waterways. But polluting industries - including corporate agribusiness and oil and gas - and their allies in Congress blocked such a solution year after year.

Frustrated by this obstruction, tens of thousands of Americans - including farmers, small businesses, and local officials - have urged EPA to use what powers it has to restore Clean Water Act protections to our waterways. This week's announcement is the clearest indication yet that we will finally see this problem resolved soon.

The stakes for clean water are high. Consider the following:

* our waterways face an onslaught of pollution. The Cuyahoga River no longer burns, but our rivers, lakes, and other waters face billions of gallons of sewage overflows, animal waste from factory farms, mining pollution, and oil and gas spills.

* In just one 18-month period, EPA reported that jurisdictional issues hampered enforcement action in 500 cases.

* The waters in question help provide drinking water to more than 117 million Americans.

Clean water is vital to our ecology, our economy, and our health. Hopefully, EPA's announcement last week will bring long-awaited relief to our rivers, lakes, and streams very soon.