The Clean Water Act turns 50 next year.
This landmark law has led to some great environmental successes — waterways that were once basically open sewers have been returned to their former scenic beauty, capable of supporting aquatic life and providing drinking water to millions of Americans.
It has also made possible countless water protection careers in public service and private industry, as well as many types of pollution control technologies.
In at least one area, though, public protections related to the Clean Water Act have not advanced at all — despite Congress’ 1972 mandate to the contrary.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of aboveground storage facilities containing hazardous chemicals — such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene — are not subject to state or federal rules designed to prevent and mitigate spills. These storage tanks sit along our industrialized waterfronts and at agricultural supply depots in our rural communities, threatening the health and safety of nearby residents, many of whom are low-income people of color.
The Clean Water Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue rules to ensure these tanks are secure, yet Democratic and Republican administrations alike have ignored and even flouted the law.
In the absence of …
To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.
Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.
This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.
Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …
As Maryland heads into the final stretch of a collective effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it has inexplicably passed over its best opportunity in years to modernize regulation of industrial stormwater — rain and snow that collects toxic pollution as it runs off factories, warehouses, scrap metal dealers, and other industrial sites.
Earlier this year, Maryland released a proposed revision of its general water pollution permit, which limits the type and amount of pollutants that facilities can discharge into public waters and sets monitoring and reporting requirements to protect public and environmental health.
Unfortunately, the state missed an important opportunity to bring stormwater regulation from the last century into the present — but it’s not too late to change course.
When it comes to addressing climate-related flooding, Maryland has made progress.
In 2014, it created a "Coast Smart Council" at the state's Department of Natural Resources. Councilmembers, representing government, academia, business, advocacy, and other sectors, work together to develop science-backed resources and rules that govern development of state-funded projects in coastal and flood-prone areas.
Meanwhile, state agencies and local jurisdictions work under the council's auspices and with the benefit of resources. such as local government studies and plans to address climate-related flooding. They also have a new interactive mapping tool — the Climate Ready Action Boundary — to help local governments and the public explore flood-prone boundaries in Maryland. Those who use the tool can make informed decisions about development in areas vulnerable to flooding or sea level rise. Any state development built within the flood-prone boundary must be designed with flood-resilient features.
But these actions don't come close …
As a coastal state, Maryland is especially vulnerable to climate and ocean change — but important environmental protections are woefully out of date, endangering Marylanders' health, safety, economic welfare, and natural resources.
Maryland could take a step to rectify that this year. State lawmakers are advancing important legislation that would bring outdated water pollution rules up to speed and protect Marylanders and the environment.
Senate Bill 227 would require stormwater design standards and permits to reflect current rainfall patterns and put the state on a trajectory to assess and regularly update them in the future. We need appropriately designed stormwater practices to capture and treat greater rainfall volumes to reduce pollutants, like nitrogen and phosphorus, that contaminate water when it rains. And we need the standards to mitigate flooding and other physical impacts.
Hurricanes are increasing in frequency, size, strength, and rainfall volume, and they're following increasingly northward …
The Virginia General Assembly has wrapped a special legislative session to reform the Commonwealth’s budget. The story Virginians often hear is that lawmakers were busy pursuing social justice, spurred on by COVID-driven economic hardships and a historic demand for reforms. However, this story belies the fact that the Assembly failed to pass the meaningful social justice reforms called for by working-class Virginians, while giving away half a billion dollars in customer overcharges to Dominion Energy’s shareholders.
With the climate and COVID crises at the fore, state and local environmental regulation and decision-making has taken on greater weight. As CPR Policy Analyst Katlyn Schmitt points out in a new paper, there is still some low-hanging fruit to be picked before Virginians can be equitably served by and participate in the Commonwealth’s environmental decision-making process.
For one, public notice and comment procedures for proposed environmental rules …
An extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season is still underway, one that has seen the National Hurricane Center exhaust its supply of names and resort to Greek alphabet for remaining storms. This month was the worst September on record in terms of the number of named storms, and 2020 overall is second only to 2005’s devastating succession of hurricanes (which included Katrina) in the number of named storms over the entire season.
There's no mystery as to why: Climate change is driving an increase in the frequency and strength of Atlantic hurricanes. And it's doing it at a time when affected communities – especially Black, Brown, and low-income communities – are all the more vulnerable to natural disaster due to the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental safeguards and its reckless response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Trump is pouring fuel on the fire, 2020’s portent of a future …
Staff and Board members of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) denounce the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day. We stand with the peaceful protestors calling for radical, systemic reforms to root out racism from our society and all levels of our governing institutions and the policies they administer.
CPR Member Scholars and staff are dedicated to listening to and working alongside Black communities and non-Black people of color to call out racism and injustice and demand immediate and long-lasting change. Racism and bigotry cannot continue in the United States if our nation is to live up to its creed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
CPR's vision is thriving communities and a resilient planet. That ideal animates all of our work, but systemic sources of inequality and injustice stand as massive barriers to the realization …
With all the talk of the "new normal" brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of how government policies and heavy industry continue to force certain populations and communities into a persistent existential nightmare. Polluted air, poisoned water, the threat of chemical explosions – these are all unjust realities that many marginalized and vulnerable Americans face all the time that are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nothing could make these injustices more outrageously apparent and dangerous than EPA’s signaled retreat on environmental standards and enforcement, which cravenly takes advantage of the global pandemic and a rapidly expanding economic collapse. On March 26, Susan Bodine, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memo outlining the agency's sweeping, temporary enforcement policy. Advocates, scientists, and communities almost immediately objected, and in a few days’ time, environmental organizations filed a …
Hundreds of thousands of Americans, from the southern California surf town of Imperial Beach to the rowhouse-lined blocks of Baltimore, are banding together to bring lawsuits against several dozen of the most powerful and wealthy corporations in the world. What do these residents and those from various coastal cities; the state of Rhode Island; Boulder, Colorado; and members of the West Coast's largest commercial fishing trade organization have in common?
All of these communities and businesses have been harmed – and are likely to experience future harms – as a result of global climate change, attributed to decades of production, promotion, and disinformation by multinational fossil fuel corporations. Government and business leaders are suing to hold these fossil fuel producers accountable, seeking compensation and other forms of redress, in state courts using tort law.
While residents may all suffer some harm from increased flooding driven by more intense rainfall …