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U.S. EPA Releases Clean Water Act Guidance

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new guidance that will restore protections to waterways that are currently the dumping grounds for industrial polluters. The “Clean Water Framework” is a huge deal for the millions of Americans who depend on this water for drinking.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, but two muddied Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (SWANNC) and 2006 (Rapanos) removed safeguards for many of our nation’s water bodies. Basically, these rulings made it so that Clean Water Act protections would only be available for “navigable” water bodies – or waters that are significantly linked to such water bodies.
In a conference call with reporters, today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the guidance would follow with a proposed rule and a comment period. She wouldn’t give a date for the proposed rule, but said she was really proud the EPA was moving in this direction.

Others also rejoiced. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) said:

Today the Administration took an important step that puts our nation back on a course to fully protect our water, our fisheries, and our citizens’ health. This guidance returns science to its proper place as the foundational component of a 21st century water quality protection program and undoes some of the bad policies put forth by the Bush Administration that left many of our streams and rivers unprotected from pollution and destruction.

And Earthjustice’s own Joan Mulhern (who has worked on clean water issues for more than a decade) said:

For nearly a decade the Clean Water Act has been broken and left thousands of streams, rivers and wetlands exposed to oil spills, fills and destruction, and other industrial discharges from polluters. This pollution has not only left our waters dirty, it has threatened the millions of Americans who depend on these waters for drinking. The Obama administration’s new guidance reinstates most of the protections of the Clean Water Act, although there are some important water bodies that may still be left unprotected until Congress addresses this issue. This is an important step forward to fix a Bush-era guidance that sacrificed our waters for the sake of special interests.

This new guidance will now be subject to public comment. We know the American people want, expect, and deserve clean water for their families and communities. We hope they will speak up now to support the Obama administration’s efforts to keep out nation’s waters protected from pollution. 

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