Clean Water Rule Moves the United States Toward Cleaner Waters

The Obama Administration and EPA have released a final "clean water rule" that clarifies the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Streams and the bodies of water they flow to will be better protected with the new Clean Water Rule.
Streams and the bodies of water like rivers and lakes that they flow into will be better protected with the new Clean Water Rule. (Lee O'Dell/Shutterstock)

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The Clean Water Act was enacted in the 1970s—more than a decade before I was born. A lot has changed since then, and like many things, the devastation that precipitated this historic and significant environmental law is a distant memory for most. There was a time in this nation when water quality was so bad, waterways so polluted that they literally caught on fire. Such was the case of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. TIME Magazine once described the river as one that "oozes rather than flows."

We've come a long way since the Cuyahoga River caught on fire—but our waterways are still not fully protected. More than half of our rivers and streams are rated in "poor" condition and considered unfit for drinking water, swimming or fishing. Before the bill was passed, the drinking water sources of 117 million Americans were left vulnerable to toxic pollution. However, it is a new day for clean water.

On May 27, the Obama administration and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy released a final "Clean Water Rule" that clarifies the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and restores key protections for most waters left vulnerable by two Supreme Court rulings and a host of misguided policies under the previous administration.

This important rulemaking comes after members of the public turned out in droves calling for a strong and protective rule from EPA. In point of fact, more than 1 million comments on the rule were submitted to EPA, and an overwhelming majority of these were in support of strong and protective rule.

The Obama administration listened to calls for a strong and protective rule—a significant achievement; but even more significant is that the EPA analyzed over 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies to inform the underpinnings of the rule in sound science.

While the rule is now final, as Congress continues its unrelenting attacks on the rule you can be sure that they will not be swayed by sound science. If we are to safeguard our critical and cherished waterways, the public must continue its calls to preserve the Clean Water Act and oppose legislative proposals that undermine and weaken these key protections.

The public should also see through these attacks on clean water. "…The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who knowingly threaten our clean water," White House advisor Brian Deese told McClatchy News.

As Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen said in a statement on the rule, "People in ToledoCharleston, WV, and Montana City know the stakes all too well, but all our lakes, rivers, streams and beaches across the country will be cleaner for it.

This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post on May 28, 2015.

Based in Washington, D.C., Chris is a legislative director for Climate & Energy on the Policy and Legislation team.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.