Washington, DC –Over half of the nation’s streams, which feed drinking water sources for one in three Americans, will regain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"Our rivers, lakes, and drinking water can only be clean if the streams that flow into them are protected,” said Margie Alt, executive director with Environment America. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed and major water bodies from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound, including drinking water supplies for 117 million Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 investigations against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. More than 1,000 mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers from across the country have joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments and register support for the rule. Those same supporters celebrated today’s action.
“Whether for drinking, recreation or brewing world-class beers, our waterways are vital to our collective health, welfare and industry,” said Bill Covaleski, Brewmaster and Co-Founder of Victory Brewing Company in Dowington, Pa.
“You can’t have healthy food without healthy soil, and you can’t have healthy soil without clean water,” said Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “This rule will provide healthy returns for farmers, consumers and ecological systems across the country.”
"Our customers expect quality, and that means raising our bison naturally, where they eat native grasses and drink clean water," said Hugh Fitzsimons, a south Texas rancher and owner of Thunder Heart Bison and the 13,000-acre Shape Ranch. "As a rancher who depends on clean water, I strongly support President Obama and the EPA's actions to protect Texas streams and wetlands."
Tim Mauck, a county commissioner in Clear Creek County, Col., added, “Clean water is paramount to our health, our landscapes and habitat, and our recreation-based economies.”
Environment America and its state affiliates, among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, has gathered more than 200,000 comments and held more than half a million face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the past year alone.
A recent Hart Research Associates poll showed that 80 percent of American voters surveyed across party lines favored the Clean Water Rule.
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.
While today’s action signals the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. Last Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.
“Today the administration signed and sealed critical protections for our drinking water, but they won’t get delivered if the Senate stands in the way,” said Alt of Environment America. “For the sake of our rivers, lakes, and families’ health, we need our senators to stand up to the polluters and choose clean water instead.”
Environment America is the federation of statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organizations working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentAmerica.org