Dirty Politics: The Biggest Threat to America’s Waterways

Posted by Sandra Diaz | September 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm



It Took a Movement to Create the Clean Water Act- We Need Another to Save It

Update: The House passed the polluter-friendly TRAIN Act, H.R. 2041 by a vote of 249 to 169.

Clean Water

A People's Movement Made This Clean Water Possible


At this moment, the U.S. House is debating HR 2041, the TRAIN Act. The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act is a dangerous bill designed to give coal-fired plants a free pass when it comes to controlling pollutants like mercury- for up to 5 years.

The TRAIN Act would delay vital protections like the utility mercury standard, still under EPA consideration, and the recently finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The Utility mercury rule would reduce mercury from coal-fired power plants by 91%. 500,000 Americans recently let the EPA know that they support this safeguard. The recently finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would curb smog and particulate pollution that blow across state lines from coal-fired power plants.

These protections have both public health and economic benefits. The two rules combined, according to a University of Massachusetts study, commissioned by CERES, would:

-prevent 17,000 premature deaths every year;
-prevent 12,000 hospitalizations and emergency room visits every year;
-saving taxpayers a minimum of $59 billion, and would
-create nearly 1.5 million jobs, or nearly 300,000 jobs a year on average over the next five years

The utility mercury standard has been long overdue. In 2004, a more industry-friendly EPA decided to buck their own previous assessment of mercury as a hazardous air pollutant, which would have required the EPA to regulate mercury under Section 112 of the Clean Water Act, the MACT standard. This standard requires that the “Maximum Available Control Technology” be used to clean up mercury from power plants, and is based on the emissions levels already achieved by the best-performing similar facilities.

The EPA decided to try to regulate under a less stringent standard (section 111). Environmental groups like Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Southern Environmental Law Center and Waterkeeper Alliance forced the EPA to reverse this decision and re-release a proposal using the standards for hazardous air pollutants.

The EPA is expected to release a final rule on curbing mercury from coal utilities in November. But they might not be able to implement the rule, if some members of Congress have their way.

The TRAIN Act is part of a bigger campaign to dismantle important and popular laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and weaken the federal agencies charged with implementing these laws, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency.

Why? Because the coal industry doesn’t want to cut into their massive profits; instead they would rather that we continue to pick up the tab for their pollution with our personal health and the health of our waterways.

Big Coal wants to continue to dump their waste from mountaintop removal mining into our headwater streams, to let mercury fall into our rivers, and allow coal ash to contaminate groundwater. It’s cheaper for them to lobby Congress to weaken our laws- at a tune of $200 million in 2010 alone.

To allow Congress to gut these popular laws would thrust America back to a time where polluting industries were in charge of our air and water. Where would that leave us?

1969- The Year Before the Clean Water Act

Bottomer, Fred, “Cuyahoga River Fire,” Teaching & Learning Cleveland ,

“Cuyahoga River Fire,” Fred Bottomer

On June 22, 1969, American witnessed an environmental horror- the burning of an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio (again- it wasn’t the first time). However, this time the fire caught the attention of Time Magazine, which famously wrote,

“No Visible Life. Some river! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows…The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.”

This event was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Americans took to the streets, angry that corporate polluters were being given free rein in using our nation’s waterways as their dumping grounds. In 1970, the following year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established and the Clean Water Act was passed into law. This occurred under a Republican Administration (Nixon) and a Democratic Congress, no less.

Before the EPA and the Clean Water Act, states had little incentive to have strong water or air protections, unless similar protections were instituted by several other states. Water and air know no boundaries, so state air and water laws were of little use without consistent federal standards to back them up. The burning of the Cuyahoga brought to light the grave need for these federal standards.

We have come a long way since 1969; however, we still have a long way to go. To this day, over half of our rivers streams are classified as “threatened” or “impaired.” And we have written countless times about the damage mountaintop removal coal mining has caused to our headwater streams and local well water in Appalachian coal-bearing regions.

But with the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA,
we demonstrated a strong national commitment to clean water as an important natural resource. Whether you love to go fishing, swimming, or just drinking a glass of cool refreshing water, it’s laws like the Clean Water Act that make those activities safe for you to enjoy.

The EPA and the Clean Water Act exists because the American people exercised their political will- and we need to do so again, because there are politicians intent on partying like it’s 1969. And Big Coal is paying for the keg and snacks.

Red, White, and Water

Join the movement to save America's clean water

It took a movement to create the Clean Water Act- it’s going to take another movement to save it. Won’t you please join this movement and sign the Red, White, Water pledge?

We need to hold Congress accountable- otherwise we might get pushed into the Big Coal time machine and reverse all the progress we have made in the past 40 years in cleaning up our waterways.

I also encourage to call your Representative- you can use the U.S. Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121 and ask them to vote NO on HR 2041, the TRAIN Act. A vote is expected later on today.

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