Environmental groups hail EPA action as biggest step for clean water in a decade

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island

Today, coming off the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade, Environment Rhode Island stood with regional organizations and officials to celebrate the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways across New England and the rest of the country. The EPA’s proposed rule, announced Tuesday, would close loopholes from polluter-led litigation that leave 54% of Rhode Island streams at risk of unchecked pollution.

“From Narragansett Bay to rivers and streams across the state, we cherish clean water in Rhode Island,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director for Environment Rhode Island. The group and its regional affiliates – including Environment Massachusetts, Environment Connecticut, and Environment Maine – have worked for more than a decade to restore the Clean Water Act protections proposed yesterday. “We are thrilled to see the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA moving forward to protect all of our waters.”

With EPA’s New England office based in Boston, Environment Rhode Island joined regional watershed and conservation groups at a press conference along the Charles River with Deborah Szaro, Deputy Administrator of EPA Region 1.

“For over four decades, the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe drinking water and healthy water to swim, fish and play in,” said EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding, former executive director of Save the Bay, in a written statement. “With our proposal to clarify Clean Water Act protection for upstream waters that are vital to downstream communities, we are continuing to protect America’s waters in a more efficient way.”

This rulemaking comes after a decade of uncertainty over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following polluter-led Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006. The rule, which could be finalized as soon as later this year, would restore Clean Water Act protections to many of Rhode Island’s wetlands and more than half of its streams.

In September 2013, the EPA announced it was moving forward with the rulemaking to restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways throughout New England and across the country. It simultaneously released a draft science report on the connection between smaller streams and wetlands and downstream waters, which makes the scientific case for the rulemaking. Members of the public submitted more than 150,000 public comments in support of the report’s findings that these waterways merit protection under the law.

Many of the nation’s biggest polluters – mostly outside New England – are already fighting tooth and nail to keep the loopholes intact. With thousands of miles of pipelines running through wetlands, Big Oil has threatened “legal warfare” over the issue; with factory farms dumping millions of gallons of manure every year, corporate agribusiness is attacking the rule as a “land grab” to scare farmers; and with mountaintop removal burying valley streams in rubble and waste, big coal is also opposing the renewal of clean water protections.

Facing polluter opposition, Environment Rhode Island and its sister groups in New England and across the country have waged an intensive multi-year campaign to restore these Clean Water Act protections – including more than 1 million face-to-face conversations with people across the country, and rallying more than 400 local elected officials, 300 farmers, and 300 small business owners to call on the Obama administration to take action.

“When finalized, this rule would be the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade,” said Jones. “Thank you, Administrator Gina McCarthy and the EPA for fighting to protect clean water. Now let’s get the job done.”