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In the aftermath of a major catastrophe, lawmakers and regulators should be held accountable to create new safety protocols to avert future disasters. Incidents like the Cuyahoga River catching fire and the Exxon Valdez oil spill prompted changes in how we protect our nation’s waters from industrial chemicals. The Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia in 1972 likewise prompted changes to the regulation of dams storing toxic materials.

Last Wednesday, a group of clean air advocates intervened to protect crucial air safeguards that will curb pollution emitted during oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately the state of Texas and their allies with the American Petroleum Institute and a variety of other state alliances of oil and gas companies are pushing back against these necessary protections.

Four years ago, a small Tennessee town woke up to a nightmare. A nearby coal ash pond that held back more than a billion gallons of toxic waste collapsed, sending a flood of ash and dirt right through their doors. In the weeks and months that followed, an entire nation began to see the magnitude of the coal ash threat.

Something very unusual happened at the November 2011 meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The audience broke into applause for what the commisioners did.

They stood up for a fish that H. Bruce Franklin at Rutgers University called “The Most Important Fish in the Sea”—the Atlantic menhaden.

The menhaden is not a lovable, or famous fish. As Franklin describes it:

You know that creek in your backyard, or the river or lake near your town? Have any idea what kind of condition it is in, or how polluted it is?

Most people probably don't  -- up until now, it hasn't been very easy to get this information. But to help people find out about the condition of their local waterways, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a supercool new app for your computer or mobile device that allows you to learn about the quality of the waters near you.

Growing up just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, my siblings and cousins and I spent our summers swimming in Lake Erie. The water looked clear enough, and though I remember hearing about the invasion of zebra mussels, our greatest worries were the imagined creatures in the deep. We didn't know that just a few years before, the lake was popularly deemed “dead" because of the pollution it received from surrounding industries.

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