The Clean Water Act at 40: Can We Renew the Vision?

by Robert Adler | October 15, 2012

Congress adopted the “modern” version of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, more commonly known as the “Clean Water Act,” forty years ago this week (Pub. L. No. 92-500, Oct. 18, 1972). As Congress faces persistent efforts to weaken this law, it is important to take stock of why the law was passed, how well we have met its goals and objectives, and how much is left to accomplish.

In the current anti-regulatory climate, it is easy to fall prey to “collective societal amnesia” about the severe problems that caused Congress to pass this historic legislation. At the time, the United States faced water pollution problems of crisis proportions. Nearly a third of U.S. drinking water supplies exceeded Public Health Service limits. The Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries found unsafe levels of mercury, pesticides, and other toxic pollutants in the majority of fish sampled. The Hudson River had bacteria levels 170 times over safe limits. In 1969, over 41 million fish were killed in reported incidents alone. And in perhaps the most public and dramatic catalyst for action, on June 22, 1969 the Cuyahoga River caught fire, fueled by oil and industrial waste discharges (for more on this history, see  The Clean Water Act: 20 Years Later,  which I co-authored with Jessica C. Landman and Diane Cameron).

In response to these severe problems, Congress adopted one of the most aspirational of all environmental statutes, ...

The Clean Water Act at 40: Up to the Challenge of the Climate Change Era?

by Robin Kundis Craig | October 15, 2012
There is no question but that the Clean Water Act has led to enormous improvements in water quality throughout the United States. Funding for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) has largely eliminated the use of the nation's waterways for the disposal of raw sewage. Most point source discharges are now subject to permitting and technology-based and/or water-quality based effluent limitations. There is also no question that the Clean Water Act is a statute that is still evolving to address water ...

Forty Years Later, Time to Turn in the CWA Clunker for Something Suited for the 21st Century

by Dan Tarlock | October 12, 2012
As the Clean Water Act (CWA) turns 40, it is useful to compare it to the cars on the road in 1972. Big cars, some still adorned with tail fins and grills, ruled the road, running on 36 cents per gallon gas.  Forty years later, we look back on the early 70s and ask how could we consider these cars, and what we wore driving them, so cool. Today, we are driving smaller, better engineered and designed fuel efficient cars. ...

Ryan Record on Regulation Includes Voting to Gut Clean Air Act Protections Adopted in Bipartisan 401 to 25 Vote

by James Goodwin | October 11, 2012
The Vice Presidential debate is tonight, and I suspect that, among other things, we’ll hear Paul Ryan give some general talk of “reducing red tape” or “reducing government burdens on job creators.”  We probably won’t hear a pitch for blocking air pollution rules that would save thousands of lives—which, after all, doesn’t poll well.  But that’s exactly what Ryan has voted for, over and over. Representative Ryan’s record on regulations and the environment has received relatively little attention outside an ...

Supreme Court to Decide Fate of Pollution Controls for Timber Industry; EPA and Congress Try to Preempt Courts

by Nicholas Vidargas | October 10, 2012
Imagine the ecosystem in which salmon evolved and thrived in the Northwest.  As the region’s celebrated rain falls through old-growth forest, it is filtered through duff as it makes its way to one of thousands of pristine streams.  It is in those cold, clear waters that salmon begin their lives among rock and pebble, the product of their parents’ long journey from the sea, a journey they too will make in years to come.  But in modern times, those salmon ...

The Clean Water Act at 40: Finishing a Task Well Begun

by William Andreen | October 09, 2012
This post is first in a series marking the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. On October 18th, the nation will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.  This landmark piece of legislation has proven remarkably successful.  Water pollution discharges from both industry and municipal sewer systems have declined sharply, the loss of wetlands has been cut decisively, and water quality has broadly improved across the country.  The Clean Water Act is, in short, a real success ...

Obama Event Monday Honoring Farmworkers Comes Just Months After Administration Jettisoned Key Farmworker Safety Rule

by Rena Steinzor | October 07, 2012
President Obama travels to Keene, California, on Monday to designate the home of César E. Chávez as a national monument—a worthy honor for a key figure in the ongoing push for safe working conditions and fair pay. One thing the President is unlikely to raise in his remarks is that just a few months ago, his administration took the side of big agriculture against the safety of farmworkers. In April, White House staff jettisoned a key Department of Labor (DOL) proposal ...

New CPR Issue Brief: Regulatory 'Pay-Go' Caps Protections but Not Harms to the Public

by Sidney Shapiro | October 02, 2012
When the government succeeds in protecting the public from harms, is that good news – or something to be atoned for by eliminating other successful protections? If the Department of Labor issues a new rule on construction crane safety, saving dozens of lives each year, should the agency also be required to eliminate an existing safety regulation? A policy of regulatory “pay-go” would prohibit agencies from issuing new rules, no matter how beneficial they are, unless they first identify and ...

Kiobel Returns!

by John Knox | September 28, 2012
Remember Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, argued before the Supreme Court last term?  It’s back – the Court will hear argument again Monday – and bigger than before.  A brief recap:  For decades, Shell has extracted oil from the Niger Delta, causing extensive environmental degradation.  The government of Nigeria, with the alleged support of Shell, cracked down on protests by the local residents, the Ogoni tribe, by executing their leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others in 1995.  Members of the ...

Fifth Circuit's Reversal on Katrina Litigation Leaves Flood Victims Gasping for Air

by Robert Verchick | September 27, 2012
I’ll forego reporting on India today to address a new development in the post-Hurricane Katrina litigation: Judge Jerry Smith’s breathless hairpin turn in the “Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation.” On Monday, Judge Smith, writing for a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood damage during Hurricane Katrina, a case that could have exposed the federal government to billions of dollars in damages over the next several ...

New Paper: How Chemicals Manufacturers Seek to Co-opt Their Regulators

by Rena Steinzor | September 27, 2012
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Wayland Radin. Today CPR releases Cozying Up: How the Manufacturers of Toxic Chemicals Seek to Co-opt Their Regulators, exposing the work of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), two industry advocacy groups that have undue influence on the regulation of toxic chemicals.  The two firms specialize in a particularly insidious brand of “dirty” science by recruiting EPA experts to co-author papers and ...

The Muddy Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Case

by John Echeverria | September 25, 2012
The most interesting issues to watch in Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States, which the Supreme Court will hear next week on October 3, are ones the parties have not addressed.  The central issue in the case as framed by the principal briefs is whether a temporary increase in the frequency of inundation of floodplain property as a result of government action should give rise to liability under the Takings Clause.  But there are two other  -- arguably ...

New CPR Report: Maryland and Federal Authorities Should Prosecute Water Polluters More Frequently

by Aimee Simpson | September 24, 2012
Today, CPR releases a new white paper examining criminal enforcement of water pollution laws in Maryland.  In Going Too Easy? Maryland’s Criminal Enforcement of Water Pollution Laws Protecting the Chesapeake Bay, CPR President Rena Steinzor and I analyze a number of key questions concerning the critical, deterrence-based enforcement mechanism of criminal prosecution and its role in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts: What have water pollution criminal enforcement efforts in Maryland looked like for the past 10 to 20 years? What ...

Food Safety and Worker Safety Advocates Urge Vilsack to Withdraw Poultry Inspection Rule

by Ben Somberg | September 20, 2012
A host of concerned groups and individuals wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today urging him to withdraw proposed changes to poultry inspection rules until food safety and worker safety concerns are addressed. The letter was signed by a range of food safety and worker safety groups and individual signers, including CPR Member Scholars Martha McCluskey, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, and Rena Steinzor. The letter explains the food safety and worker safety issues at stake, and takes USDA to ...

Supersized Drinks, Social Welfare, and Liberty

by Daniel Farber | September 19, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Obesity is an environmental issue because the food system (from farm to table) uses a lot of energy and produces significant water pollution. More food equals a bigger environmental footprint. Sweetened soft drinks are a good example: they use corn sweetener, and corn production has a large footprint because so much fertilizer is required. There is a growing epidemic of obesity and of childhood obesity in particular. The New Scientist has a very thoughtful review of ...

Navigating the High Seas: Why the U.S. Should Ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty

by Rebecca Bratspies | September 18, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is the last in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these treaties.  Previous posts are here. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention Adopted and Opened for Signature on December 10, 1982. Agreement on Part XI Adopted ...

What Does The Indian Public Think About Climate Change?

by Robert Verchick | September 17, 2012
I had been wondering what ordinary people in India think about climate change. So last week on my ride home from the office, I asked my auto-rickshaw driver. He was a talkative guy, bearded, with black spectacles and a navy blue turban. He had been keen on identifying for me the many troubles a man like him endures on the subcontinent. “Too many people!” he shouted, his voice competing with the cab’s rattling frame and the bleats of oncoming horns. ...

Key EPA Air Pollution Rule Runs Past 120 Day Deadline at White House

by Ben Somberg | September 15, 2012
The Administration has just missed another deadline on issuing the final revised “boiler MACT” rule. The revised version of the rule will provide less pollution reduction than the original version, but is still expected to prevent thousands of deaths each year. The EPA had pledged for many months that the rule would be finalized in April. It later said the rule would be finalized in the “spring.” On May 17, the agency sent the rule to the White House’s Office of Information ...

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