The Clean Water Act was first implemented nearly 40 years ago. It is arguably one of the most successful environmental laws ever passed and a generation of Americans has enjoyed safer, fishable, and swimmable waters because of it. However, in the past decade, misguided court decisions and Bush Administration directives have broken the Clean Water Act, opening the door for corporate polluters to contaminate previously protected waters -- putting the drinking supply of over 117 million Americans at risk.
On April 21st, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), along with Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and John Dingell (D-MI), introduced America's Commitment to Clean Water Act (H.R. 5088), or ACCWA, to address the disrepair of the Clean Water Act and restore its original intent. ACCWA would reinstate protections to the estimated 59% of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands at risk. Last June, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved similar legislation, known as the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787).
We applaud Chairman Oberstar, and leaders in the Senate, for their continued leadership as clean water is one of the most crucial public health, safety and environmental issues we face.
History dictates that restoring the original scope of the Clean Water Act and even strengthening its reach, is not just good policy but also good politics.
In 1995, then -- Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-PA) introduced H.R. 961, the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1995. This legislation, more accurately titled the "Dirty Water Act," would have halted water quality improvements by linking these improvements to the economic value of the environmental benefits -- a nearly impossible task. The "Dirty Water Act" also would have loosened protections on America's wetlands, provided polluting industries with unnecessary exemptions and relaxed storm water pollution regulations, threatening water quality across the country. All in all, this legislation was a handout to polluters, a huge threat to safe drinking water, and it would have delivered a potentially devastating blow to the protections of the Clean Water Act.
Thankfully, the "Dirty Water Act" ultimately failed to become law but voters didn't forget those members that voted to put corporate polluters ahead of American families. LCV, along with other environmental groups, launched an aggressive accountability campaign immediately following the defeat of the "Dirty Water Act". This campaign helped to defeat four Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members who voted for the "Dirty Water Act" in the 1996 election: Reps. Gary Franks (R-CT), Peter Blute (R-MA), Bill Baker (R-CA) and Randy Tate (R-WA). LCV is once again prepared to engage voters and to hold members accountable when it comes to our nation's drinking water.
We urge Chairman Jim Oberstar to make the America's Commitment to Clean Water Act a priority in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by moving the bill as soon as possible and we look forward to working with Congress to pass the strongest possible bill. Members would do well to remember that if they do not provide necessary protections to the drinking water of millions of Americans, they are giving voters a powerful reason to send them packing.