Diverse voices speak out as Congress begins assault on clean water

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2015             

Listen to a recording of the teleconference here

WASHINGTON – A diverse group representing a cross-section of business, conservation, the faith community, and affected cities and towns spoke out today in favor of efforts by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to restore clean water protection to streams and wetlands that have been left vulnerable to pollution by legal ambiguities.

Speaking via media teleconference in advance of a joint Congressional hearing scheduled for Wednesday on Capitol Hill, four panelists each highlighted the importance of clean water and chided members of Congress for doing the bidding of big polluters rather than standing up to protect American families and businesses that depend on it.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea stressed the critical need to protect small streams and wetlands, including those that flow only seasonally, because of their connection to larger waters.

“The reality,” said Shea, also a former Austin city councilwoman, “is that water flows downhill, and what happens upstream has a direct impact on communities downstream. In Travis County alone, more than three out of four residents depend on public drinking water sources that are fed by streams that don’t flow year round. EPA’s common-sense rule would ensure that these drinking water sources are better protected from pollution.”

The joint hearing between the Senate Environment and Public Works and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committees was organized by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and is expected to be vastly imbalanced in favor of polluters and developers who oppose the proposed rule and any effort that would hinder their ability to use America’s waterways as industrial dumping grounds.

“Once upon a time in America we had bipartisan support for clean water,” noted The Rev. Mitch Hescox, the president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “Don’t our children have the right to have pure water?” he asked, noting that opposition to clean water is antithetical to the Bible’s acknowledgment of the  central role of water in life and God’s creation and thus the need to care for it as Christians.

The proposal by EPA and the Army Corps (www2.epa.gov/uswaters) would restore Clean Water Act protections to millions of acres of wetland and 2 million miles of streams that feed into the drinking water sources for one in three Americans. These waters are vulnerable to pollution as a result of confusing loopholes that have eroded guaranteed protections that were once in place – as if legal rulings had resulted in the removal of speed limit signs from more than half of the roadways in the country and their replacement with signs that say “don’t drive too fast.”

This lack of protection has direct economic impacts.

“I understand the value of water to my business and also the value of clean water to our community,” said Eric Henry, the owner of TS Designs, a clothing manufacturer in Burlington, N.C. “Clean water is a resource for everyone. We need to do everything we can to assure that this resource is protected now and for future generations.”

Jim Martin is the conservation Director for the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of Pure Fishing, one of the largest fishing tackle companies in the world. The loss of wetlands and pollution of small streams, he said, has a direct impact on sportfishing and other outdoor activities, one of the reasons the proposed rule is overwhelming supported by sportsmen.

By not restoring Clean Water Act protections to vulnerable streams and wetlands, Martin said, we are endangering a $200 billion outdoor recreation economy that accounts for 1.5 million jobs. “We know where 60 million sportsmen stand,” he said. “Any politician who votes to kill this rule needs to explain to America what their solution is to stopping this degradation of our nation’s headwaters and our economy.”

Small streams and wetlands contribute to the health of drinking water, filter out contaminants and help protect homes and businesses from flooding, and contrary to the alarmist hypebole being used by big polluters and the members of Congress they are connected to, Shea said, restoring protections will help bring clarity to permitting.

Travis County’s transportation department, she noted, frequently needs permits for projects like road construction, and county officials favor the rule because it will erase confusion about which waters permits are necessary for.

A coalition of environmental, conservation, and sportsmen groups are working to highlight the broad and diverse support for clean water in advance of Wednesday’s hearing. More information can be found at protectcleanwater.com.

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