The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Erin Allweiss, NRDC, 202-513-6254

New Report: Across America, Waters in Crisis

How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It


decades, the Clean Water Act has broadly protected America's lakes,
rivers, streams, and drinking water sources from unregulated pollution
and destruction, rescuing them from the dire straits they were in
during the late 1960s and early 1970s. But because of a concerted
effort by polluters and developers, and muddied rulings from the U.S.
Supreme Court, up to 60 percent (at least 15,000 important waters) have
lost these vital protections and countless other waters (including more
than 50 percent of our streams and 20 million acres of wetlands) are at
risk of losing protections.

Today, Natural Resources
Defense Council, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Environment America,
National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and Southern Environmental
Law Center are releasing a new report entitled "Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It,"
which details the threats to America's waters and highlights the urgent
need for Congress to act immediately and restore full Clean Water Act
protections to our waters.

Supreme Court decisions in
2001 and 2006, and subsequent agency policies by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers put in place in 2003
and 2007, shattered the fundamental framework of the Clean Water Act.
Today, many important waters - large and small - are being stripped of
critical protections against pollution and destruction. These waters
not only serve as valuable wildlife habitat, store flood water, return
water to aquifers, and filter pollutants, but they also provide some or
all of the supply for drinking water systems serving roughly 111
million Americans. The floodgates are now open for polluters to use the
chaotic legal state to thwart enforcement and clean up efforts, and
actively pollute the waters where we fish, swim, boat, and drink.

Courting Disaster details
more than 30 cases which demonstrate that without immediate action in
Congress, a generation of progress in cleaning up our nation's waters
may be lost. We cannot afford to return to the days of dirty water.
These telling examples include numerous instances where:

  • an
    administrative agency (EPA or Corps) limited legal protection for a
    given water body, ruling that it is no longer protected by the Clean
    Water Act;
  • a court made a determination undercutting Clean Water Act protections for a water body;
  • as
    a defense in an enforcement action, an alleged polluter raised the
    issue of whether the water they discharged into is a protected water;
  • the
    Corps of Engineers originally determined a water not be protected,
    forcing EPA to step in to overrule the Corps and protect the water
    body; and
  • a discharger with a permit argued it could pollute waters without federal safeguards in the future.

the nation, polluters are being allowed to dump into our waterways,
including countless drinking water sources," said Jon Devine, Senior
Attorney for NRDC. "Congress can and must fix the Clean Water Act so it
protects the health of our rivers, lakes, streams, and the millions of
Americans who rely on them."

"These examples from across
America make clear the urgent need for Congress to pass the Clean Water
Restoration Act -- every day that passes puts at risk America's
streams, wetlands, and our sources of clean water," said Jim Murphy,
wetlands & water resources counsel, National Wildlife Federation.
"Robust wetlands, rivers, and streams are essential to help people and
wildlife survive the impacts of global warming that include more
intense storms, droughts and habitat loss."

"Since 2003,
drinking water sources for 111 million Americans have been put at risk
because of policies that give free reign to polluters," said Paul
Schwartz, national policy coordinator, Clean Water Action. "This report
shows that action by Congress is overdue."

"The Clean
Water Act was created to broadly protect our nation's waters, including
the many streams, ponds, and wetlands that provide recreation, fishing,
wildlife habitat, and our drinking water," said Dalal Aboulhosn, clean
water representative, Sierra Club. "Congress needs to step up now and
reaffirm the Clean Water Act as it was originally intended before more
of our waters are lost."

"The Clean Water Act is
broken," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel, Earthjustice.
"Every week that goes that Congress does not pass legislation to fix
it, dozens of streams and wetlands - like those in this report - are
lost to pollution and destruction. President Obama said during the
campaign that he supports this legislation. There is no reason to wait
any longer to address this dire problem."

"The rubber
meets the road in the South where most of America's wetlands and its
greatest growth collide," said Bill Sapp, senior attorney, Southern
Environmental Law Center. "The Clean Water Restoration Act is crucial
to protecting the South's valuable wetlands since many states have
little or no protections in place."

The cases in Courting Disaster
provide telling examples of how critical it is for Congress to reverse
the damage done from the Supreme Court's decisions by restoring
longstanding Clean Water Act protections. The Clean Water Restoration
Act would accomplish this. This Act was introduced in the Senate two
weeks ago. A similar bill should soon be introduced in the House.

Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization
of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to
protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has
1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New
York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Related NRDC Webpages:
Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It

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