VIEWPOINT: Closing The Clean Water Act Loopholes
by Jordan Singh
On the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report from Environment Oregon, “Waterways Restored,” highlights the success the law has brought to the Willamette River, taking it from a river overwhelmed by sewage, to one that Oregonians can once again enjoy for swimming.
All of Oregon’s rivers and streams deserve a success story, but right now, a loophole in the Clean Water Act has left over half of Oregon’s streams, including those that feed into our beloved rivers such as the Willamette, the Columbia, the Deschutes, and the Rogue, vulnerable to pollution.
In 2001 and 2006, there were two Supreme Court case decisions which opened up these loopholes in the Clean Water Act by calling into question in the term “navigable.” This may not sound like a big deal, but it essentially stripped the Clean Water Act of its ability to protect ephemeral streams, wetlands, and smaller streams from pollution, because polluters argued that it was impossible to determine whether or not they were navigable. According to EPA data, this means 61,000 miles of Oregon’s streams no longer receive Clean Water Act protections.
Earlier this year, the EPA proposed a rule to close these loopholes and restore protections to streams, rivers, wetlands, and headwaters across the country. In effect, there is essentially no new legislation being written, the EPA is just making a point to close these loopholes. We’ve already collected more than 26,000 public comments in Oregon, and our national federation has collected 200,000 nationwide. But with big polluters fighting harder than ever to block the EPA from finalizing this rule, it’s crucial that we get every possible person to voice their support of the rule. There is too much at stake to let this rulemaking die.
The agency is taking public comments on its rule until November 14, but polluters like agribusiness’ and big developers are waging a bitter campaign against it. The Clean Water Act has meant progress for Oregon’s rivers, but its promise isn’t yet fulfilled. That’s why it’s so important for EPA to stand up to the polluters and restore safeguards to all of the rivers and streams that crisscross our state.
Jordan Singh – Environment Oregon
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