The Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, both adopted in the 1970s and reauthorized several times since, stand as powerful testimony to the nation's commitment to protecting against pollution of the air and water that sustain life on earth. But they are anything but perfect, and they're showing their age.
The Clean Air Act, for example, was passed before climate change was recognized. And yet, because of the federal government's failure to adopt legislation tailored to that most serious of environmental problems, the Clean Air Act, at least for the foreseeable future, will be the principle vehicle by which greenhouse gases are regulated in the United States.
Likewise, the Clean Air Act is in need of retooling. Despite the many successes of the law, almost half of the nation's waterways are still "impaired," too polluted to support to serve as sources of drinking water, recreational areas, or to support fish and wildlife.
Thirty years after passage of the Clean Air Act, its promise is unfulfilled. Thousands of Americans die each year from causes related to air pollution, and many more become sick.The law needs updating, and the EPA needs to enforce existing provisions more vigorously.
Although enforcement of the Clean Water Act is often spotty today, it has, over the years, led to significant improvements in water quality across the nation. Nevertheless, the law needs to updated, and the EPA needs to enforce its existing provisions more strongly.
CPR's Member Scholars have been active in the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health. The national treasure now suffers from decades of environmental abuse and neglect, threatening the economic and recreational lives of residents in the region. Read about the effort.
EPA’s new strategic plan, released in draft form in November 2013, calls for less aggressive enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. A CPR Issue Alert calls EPA out on its retreat, warning of harm to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
Another area of particular interest for CPR's clean water scholarship is the Chesapeake Bay. The largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake is home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. Its watershed encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C. But the Bay's health is bad, and has been for several decades. As a result, the once booming populations of crabs and oysters have declined badly, and dead zones--in which too little oxygen is available to support aquatic life--have cropped up.
In November 2013, EPA released a draft of a new strategic plan in which it advertised that it would significantly reduce the number of inspections and enforcement actions it conducted, while asserting that it would embrace a "Next Generation Compliance" program that relies on industry self-monitoring. CPR's Rena Steinzor, Rob Glicksman and Anne Havemann published an Issue Alert in February 2014 deconstructing EPA's enforcement retreat, and sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling on her to rethink the plan.