Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith

Executive Director ; Missouri Coalition For The Environment


Speak Up or Drink it Down

Bills Make Water Hard To Swallow


Note: we will return in August to America’s food policy but today, the subject is water.


Our nation’s water stands to go from less than clean to downright filthy if Congress’ attack on clean water standards and laws succeed. Under a banner of ‘freedom’ in which ‘freedom’ means ‘do any harm one wants’, Congress is considering a number of measures that would result in more toxic pollutants in our waters, fewer fish in our streams, and necessitate more costly pollution treatment for drinking water. Our beaches, our lakes and our float streams will be even less protected if these laws advance. Our property values will erode, along with our floodplains.

What’s ironic about the current assault is its faulty premise: that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards that are unattainably high and enforces them harshly. If one’s only environmental policy experience comes from The Simpson Movie, then such a mistake is possible to make. However, when one looks at the decisions coming out of the agency, it has been citizen action- people exercising their freedom to participate in their government- that has forced that agency to improve its water quality standards and enforce the law. Even then the agency response is typically weak.

When a state or local government is influenced by a BP (big polluter) or when the corruption of cronyism and campaigns mixes with environmental policy, the citizens always lose. Private property rights of individuals are the first to go when the local BP wants to dump, discharge, emit, erode, or evade responsibility. Sometimes the federal government can step in and persuade a BP to do better next time or clean up its mess. In many cases, citizens unite and take their own actions, because, after all, our laws do give us some rights- unless Congress takes them away. Sometimes, citizens get relief because the courts order the EPA to do its job, not because the agency was proactive in the first place.

Last summer, amidst the clamor about e coli bacteria in the Lake of the Ozarks and summer beach closings, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed another lawsuit (our second this century) against the EPA on behalf of our members. Our suit charges the EPA has failed to enforce the Clean Water Act for the waters of Missouri in violation of federal law, leaving the majority of the waters in our state dirtier than they should be. If Congress supports the dirty water bills now in its chambers, our waters will stay dirty and be unprotected from even more pollution. In a state where most of us rely on surface water for drinking, and in which the connection between surface water and groundwater is often instant and unfiltered, this would be folly indeed. Chemicals, fertilizers, bacteria, viruses, and parasites are just a few of the pollutants we find in Missouri waters. Clean water species of fish, crawdads, snails and invertebrates, will not have places left to live if their waters degrade.

Here’s the list of dirty water bills that are floating around Congress. Speak now or drink it down later.

* The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 would let any state weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality standards. This is bad news if you share a body of water with a neighbor. If Missouri’s upstream neighbors lower their standards and send their pollution our way, it will cost us more.

* The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act would exempt pesticide use over water from regulation under the Clean Water Act — leaving control solely to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). FIFRA does not provide protections tailored to conditions in specific bodies of water, so it could create a dangerous vacuum in protecting human health and ecosystems, perhaps even leading to drinking water contamination. The legislation seeks to undo an important 2009 federal appeals court ruling that found pesticide permitting under FIFRA insufficiently regulates pesticide discharge into waterways.

* House Appropriations Committee USDA Conservation Funding. The committee has voted for serious cuts to programs that pay farmers to protect wetlands and waterways. They cut $171 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program and $350 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The panel also voted to reduce eligible acreage for sign up to wetlands and grasslands conservation programs. These programs counter the lure of high commodity prices and help farmers resist the temptation to farm marginal land and wildlife habitat.

* The House FY 2012 Appropriations bill for Energy and Water Development would stop funding EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers efforts to issue guidance and rules that can clarify protections for U.S. headwaters, streams and wetlands. This bill would derail the agencies’ current public process to finalize its important draft guidance, and could also block future agency efforts to restore crucial clean water protections. In Missouri, with more than 180,000 miles of streams in this state, and more than 87% of our wetlands destroyed, gutting protections puts more individuals, their health, and their property in harm’s way.

You can call the Congressional switchboard to reach your representative at: (202) 224-3121 and find your representative at http://www.house.gov/.

The Healthy Planet does not endorse any information contained in articles, advertisements or directory listings and we suggest consulting a health care professional before beginning any therapy or medical treatment.