Polluting Politics: Political Spending by Companies Dumping Toxics Into Our Waters


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Year after year, polls show that more Americans are concerned with the pollution and quality of our waterways more than any other environmental issue.1 And after toxins in Lake Erie left 400,000 Toledo, OH residents unable to drink the water coming out of their taps last August, the need to protect our waterways is clear and present.

Despite Progress, Pollution Remains

  • More than half of America’s rivers, lakes, and streams aren’t safe for fishing, swimming, or drinking.
  • Industrial facilities still reported dumping more than 206 million pounds of toxic pollution into our waterways in a single year.

Fortunately, Americans are taking action to urge decision-makers to protect our waterways. In a public comment period ending last fall, everyday people submitted more than 800,000 public comments in support of the Obama Administration’s plan to restore Clean Water Act protections to smaller waterways across the country, far outnumbering those opposing the plan. 
Many polluting industries and their trade associations, however, oppose these and other safeguards for our waters and our environment, and these entities are deeply involved in our political system.

Indeed, many of the same industrial polluters dumping millions of pounds of pollution in our waterways spend millions on elections and lobbying decision- makers every year.
Some of the Nation’s Biggest Polluters Use Their Deep Pockets to Attempt to Influence Policy

The ten parent companies that reported the most industrial dumping in 2012 spent more than $53 million on lobbying in 2014 and contributed more than $9.4 million to candidates for federal office in the 2014 election cycle.4 Between them, they reported dumping more than 95 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways across the country.5

Congress Must Listen to Science, Not the Polluters 

Despite the overwhelming public support for clean water, in 2014, the US House of Representatives voted twice to block restoring Clean Water Act protections to critical waterways across the country, which would leave the drinking water for one in three Americans at risk.

  • Congress should not stand in the way as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers move to finalize their rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands across the country. 

  • Appropriators should ensure that the EPA has adequate funding to enforce the laws already on the books. 

  • Separately, federal officials should act to curb runoff pollution from agribusiness and stormwater.