117 Million Thirsty Americans

Streams, rivers & lakes are polluted; here's what we can do to stop it.

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The New York Times today reported in the next chapter of their exceptional "Toxic Waters" series that:

"Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

"As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applpies to them. And pollution rates are rising."

The saddest part of this legal debacle is that the streams, lakes and rivers losing federal protection also provide drinking water for approximately 117 million (or more than 1 in 3) Americans, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Polluters are free to dump carcinogens, bacteria and even oil directly into our waters with little or no recourse. This all stems from two misguided rulings by the Supreme Court that cast doubt upon what waters should be protected under federal law. Their ruling on "jurisdiction" left thousands of streams, lakes and rivers unprotected; EPA officials estimate that "as many as 45 percent of major polluters might be either outside regulatory reach or in areas where proving jurisdiction is overwhelmingly difficult."

And when the cat’s away, the mice will play. Polluters are organizing around misinformation and scare tactics to cast doubt upon a fix to this problem: the Clean Water Restoration Act. If Congress passes this bill (a version has already gotten through an important Senate committee) it would fix this Supreme loophole and return protections to our waters, as the Clean Water Act intended.

But as one anonymous industry lobbyist said in the Times story: "The game plan is to emphasize the scary possibilities… If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government strom troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards."

We’ve seen this before. Threats, fearmongering and misinformation have been the ingredients for many succesful polluter parties in the past. But for millions of thirsty Americans who deserve clean water and healthy lives, even these tactics seem to have gone too far.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.