Local view: Protect all of America's -- and Minnesota's -- waters
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act. This landmark legislation, passed in 1972, is the bedrock of environmental and health protections. It was written with the goal of making waters clean enough to swim in and to fish ...
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act. This landmark legislation, passed in 1972, is the bedrock of environmental and health protections. It was written with the goal of making waters clean enough to swim in and to fish in, and is one of the nation's most important and effective environmental laws.
We in Minnesota understand the importance of water. It's a key part of where we live, where we work and where we play. Those of us living in Duluth connect to Lake Superior in many different ways. Clean water is part of the state's heritage. To protect this heritage, all waters must be protected.
But some special interests, including the Farm Bureau, the American Property Coalition and others from the agricultural and development communities don't seem to like the protections provided by the act. They don't seem to think some rivers, streams and wetlands deserve protection. Rather than abide by the protections in the Clean Water Act, as many industries and developers do, they relentlessly campaign to weaken the act. Changes they've pushed for through the courts and through the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency have written off some bodies of water -- as though they didn't matter.
The original goals of the Clean Water Act haven't been met, and yet the act is facing challenges it never has before.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 was intentionally written to include all waters, but Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 restricted the federal government's ability to apply protections to all wetlands and to all small streams. The rulings narrowed "all" waters to "navigable" waters. Seasonal and isolated waters are now considered "non-waters" by the act, leaving them open to pollution, drainage, filling and other damages that affect the drinking water of millions.
In Minnesota, an estimated 51 percent of the state's streams were left vulnerable by the rulings and by the Bush administration's interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Areas critical for providing safe drinking water for nearly 1 million Minnesotans include areas targeted to lose protection. These rulings and interpretations are eliminating protection from an unprecedented number of important waters in Minnesota and across the country.
Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota is working to put common sense back into the Clean Water Act, which worked well before the Supreme Court rulings. He's the prime sponsor of a short, simple piece of legislation called the Clean Water Restoration Act (HR 2421). His act would affirm the intent of Congress, that all waters -- not just some --be protected from pollution. The bill clearly defines the scope of the Clean Water Act as it has been understood by Congress, the courts, regulators and the public since its passage in 1972.
The Clean Water Restoration Act has bipartisan support with more than 170 House co-sponsors. It also has plain language. The bill simply and clearly reaffirms the original intent of Congress with regard to the Clean Water Act. And for those who think there's too much environmental litigation these days, the bill has an added advantage: It would halt lawsuits questioning Congress' original intent and restore Clean Water Act safeguards.
Minnesota has a lot at stake: Drinking water, fish, waterfowl and other resources need and deserve the full protection of the Clean Water Act. Clean water is good business for the Northland and for the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that fishing generates about $2.5 billion annually for Minnesota. Cleaning up America's waters can be completed only if all waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Restoration Act is needed to properly celebrate today's anniversary of the original Clean Water Act. We in Minnesota are lucky to have strong leadership on this issue from U.S. Reps. Oberstar, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum. All members of Minnesota's congressional delegation are needed to support this simple but vital legislation.
Rosie Loeffler-Kemp is a Northeastern Minnesota Organizer for Clean Water Action. Julie O'Leary is a Northeastern Minnesota Program Coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership.