By Jennifer Peters, Clean Water Action Water Programs Director – On Twitter: @EarthAvenger
This was originally published on We All Live Downstream
This month marked 43 years since the landmark Clean Water Act became law. Yet, while many of our nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands and bays are cleaner because of it, we still face water pollution challenges. Not because of lack of technology or innovation, but because of powerful polluting industries that have the ear of politicians – big oil, big ag, and big developers (just to name a few). Because of this constant political pressure to weaken critical protections for our water resources, paired with limited and often dwindling state and federal resources, enforcement of the Clean Water Act is largely driven by everyday people concerned about their communities.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is about democracy as much as it is about stopping water pollution. Public involvement in how the CWA is applied and enforced in the real world is vital to address water pollution problems. Congress recognized this importance by including explicit provisions for public involvement in the language of the CWA. Public empowerment is in the Clean Water Act’s DNA.
These provisions provide a framework for public involvement in nearly every aspect of the law – from establishing pollution limits, to permitting requirements for development projects to setting water quality goals for specific water bodies. Citizens also have the right to sue polluters who violate the law or to sue government agencies for not enforcing the law as Congress intended.
Because of these citizen lawsuits, the Clean Water Act’s pollution programs are constantly evolving. Take the new water pollution standards for fossil-fuel burning power plants issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month. The protections had not been updated since 1982 and did not even require plants to limit the amount of toxic chemicals dumped in our water. It took a lawsuit by citizen environmental groups to force the EPA to finally protect communities from toxic power plant wastewater.
Clean water is not something we can ever take for granted. Even in the US, which arguably has some of the cleanest water and strictest pollution laws. That’s why the Clean Water Act is so important. We cannot assume politicians and government regulators are acting in our best interest; we can only guarantee that our concerns are heard when we organize and speak up for clean water!