Sunday, September 20, 2009

Clean Water Act: Is It Time For A New One?



The following post is copied (with permission) from johncronin.net. Although ENV111 does not emphasize specific environmental problems, I urge you to read the attached especially if you plan to attend the panel discussion on September 22nd at 6:00pm. Please visit the Johncronin.net blog for many other interesting and informative articles.

WWW.JohnCronin.net

Friday, September 18, 2009
Imagine No Pollution

The Future & the Failed Clean Water Act

Copyright 2009, John Cronin

The Clean Water Act has failed. It is time for a new law.


There is a mistaken, popular belief that the central purpose of the 1972 Clean Water Act is to bring to justice the bad guys who are polluting the nation’s waters.


The Clean Water Act was written to create a global market place based on American innovation that would end pollution in our lifetime, and “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.”


But a list of the law's failed policies reads like an indictment of the law itself.

The first policy goal on the first page of the Clean Water Act is the elimination of the discharge of pollutants by 1985.

The law also sets a goal of making the nation’s waters fit for sports and recreation, and for fish and wildlife by July 1983.

It calls for management plans to end pollution from runoff, protect watersheds, and enhance water resources, in keeping with the 1983 and 1985 goals.

It requires the cessation of toxic discharges in toxic amounts.

It establishes a sweeping domestic and foreign policy on water designed to protect life and health here and abroad.

Indeed, the enormity of the Clean Water Act’s failure can be measured in lives. The law directs the Secretary of State to assist other nations in eradicating their water problems to “at least the same extent as the United States does under its laws.” But since the Clean Water Act was enacted, as many as 100 million people, mostly children in the developing world, have died from diseases related to water pollution. The Pacific Institute estimates that between 36 million and 70 million will die by 2020.
On the Hudson River, where I live, thousands of tons of municipal and industrial wastes are dumped annually. Sewage overflows are commonplace and people routinely swim near industrial and municipal outfalls. At least 7 major fish species are in decline and health advisories about toxins in fish have been in place for 34 years. At least one city has a drinking water intake within two miles of its sewage plant discharge, and another has an intake 35 miles downriver of a PCB Superfund site. As with most places in the nation, there is no regular monitoring or investigation of illnesses likely to have been induced by water contamination.

How was the Clean Water Act supposed to prevent such things?

It promised massive, continuing funding of research and development to transform the science and technology of pollution abatement and treatment worldwide.

It promised permanent capital funding of publicly owned municipal treatment facilities.

And it created a permit system to halt pollution. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System was supposed to accomplish precisely what its name says: systematically eliminate the discharge of pollutants.

It would be an exaggeration to say that these programs, and others in the law, have come to naught. But it is accurate to say that there is no date by which their goals can be accomplished -- and, obviously, no longer a date by which those goals must be reached.

We are left with this absurdity: the priority objective of the Clean Water Act today is to eliminate pollution 24 years ago.

It is not possible for EPA or the states to create a sense of purpose about clean water when the milestones of the Clean Water Act, the nation's most ambitious environmental law, came and went two and a half decades ago. A law that has been substantially unchanged for more than a generation cannot intelligently address “best available technology.” The EPA cannot even design new clean water programs and initiatives that are meaningful, since the very time line on which they would be founded is impossible, unless you own a time machine.

The United States needs a new Clean Water Act with new goals and milestones to take the place of the old, failed ones. The law must embrace, encourage and reward 21st century innovation. There should be generous incentives to exceed the requirements of law. It should create a brain trust of the most innovative minds, from research universities and private corporations in particular, charged with creating a pollution elimination marketplace that will equitably serve the entire planet. It should foster methods and technologies that are more effective, more robust, and cheaper to operate and maintain; expensive, antiquated technologies are enticements to violate the law. Unlike its predecessor, a new Act should make a priority of ecological and human health.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does not need a new law to take substantive action on international water crises, and fulfill her obligation under the current law. More than 1.2 billion people live without potable water -- a statistic that should be unthinkable in 2009. Secretary Clinton can and should make global water assistance a priority of her portfolio. (See my posts on Iraq and Kenya.)

We need a vibrant, 21st century Clean Water Act that that will create a new sense of national and global purpose about water. Water is fast eclipsing climate change as a universal, environmental priority. Had the United States the political will to carry out the purposes of the original Clean Water Act it would today be a global leader on water issues, just when the world most needs it.

Can we imagine no pollution, as the courageous drafters of the 1972 Clean Water Act did? First we must swallow hard and admit that their original effort failed. Only then will the Congress and the president muster the courage to imagine that mission once again with a new, and better, Clean Water Act.

13 comments:

Caroline Craig said...

John Cronin is right to point out that water has reached a global crisis. The number of people dying everyday due to illnesses related to dirty water and lack of water is unthinkable.

Right now elephants are falling over dead in Kenya from drought (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8267165.stm) and people in the UK are freaking out because three-quarters of their rivers do not meet their newly set standards (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8267686.stm).
People in Fiji suffer from drought while we drink their water from trendy square water bottles (http://www.dailyfinance.com/2009/08/24/tale-of-fiji-water-too-familiar-sounds-like-industrial-colonial/).

If all of these water issues seem so far away, well then let me bring it home. New York is #5 when it comes to states with the most polluted TAP WATER. There might be water shortages in California but meanwhile we ship water out there to grow a huge percentage of our vegetables. People in W. Virginia need to apply lotions AFTER showering to protect their skin (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/us/13water.html?_r=1)from horrible things found in their water. I lived on a commune in West Virginia just last year and we had to leave the water sitting out so that the horrible odor of sulfur would hopefully evaporate before we had to drink it. Who knows what else was in it and this all because of local coal mining and natural gas drilling.

Agricultural runoff, a very serious and underestimated problem, is the single worst offender in the US, and yet it remains largely unregulated
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/us/18dairy.html).

The sad part is- the oldest article I've posted a link for is only a month old and the rest are from this week and today...

Not to get all apocalyptic but water WARS are happening now in Africa and will continue to spread...

We need to take a good long look at issues like these and develop a new set of laws and standards.

I highly recommend following the New York Times' Toxic Water Series (http://projects.nytimes.com/toxic-waters).

Lisbet said...

I agree with this article completely. It is unthinkable to think that in 2009 there are people around the world who live within polluted waters. It is even unbelievable to think that the water industry has made billions off of bottling water. Fiji is a popular water company, but its owner pumps the little water that Fiji has in order to give the greedy the luxury of clean water. The lack of distribution and consideration in the world is tremendous. It pains me to say that the Clean water Act has failed in level unthinkable but we should have seen it coming.

Anonymous said...

Jasmine Parker

I feel laws are only passed during the spark of the moment. Fancy congressman with their fancy tea parties just sit about and dicuss making laws without actually appyling the facts and staticis. If they were to actually sit done and look at the facts they would know the realities that are actually happing worldwide as caroline stated in here comment.

It is edvident that the world waters are getting worst. Recently the New York Times had an article in it with a seven year old having tooth decay because of the water pollutants in that particular state. If this is happening in America which considers itself a first world country just imagine what is happening in third world countries?

The sad truth is that no one cares untill them or their families are affected... Ultimately it will be to late

Anonymous said...

Michele Passalacqua

It is not completely shocking that a government act failed. It is shocking that the issue has not gotten better at all, it has just gotten worse. People do not see the water crisis because they are surrounded with clean water all the time. No one looks at the hundres of water bottles or the stream which comes from their sink and think where it came from. People need to be educated on the issue, and politicians need to bring it up and address it more. Getting the information to the public, I think, is an extremely important factor in solving this problem. There are so many issues in the world right now that need to be dealt with, even so, no issue should be neglected. The government needs to make a new act, yes; but society needs to be educated and do their part as well to fixing the water crisis.

Syed Mohsin said...

Even if we do reissue the act and reissue heftier fines, there would still be polluted water. There are many reasons behind this. Mostly because people are ignorant about their surrounding water, polluted water maybe thought of as clean water. Some people think that water is a good solvent and thus will dilute everything, properly; but the pollutants still remain. It is also cheaper to dump everything water. Now there are under water dump site where industries dump their toxins, which is still better than dumping directly in the ocean. Even so pollutants leak out. Then there is ballast water, which is dumped in the ocean when cargo is unload, these go and pollute the water or introduce new species in the water. These pollutants and species kill off the local fish by eating their food. These are some of the side effects which can be very hard to eliminate, even with fines or acts of the new Water Act. An easier way would be to educate us on where our water comes from and how we can make it cleaner and drinkable. Also by morally educating the industrialist on how they are polluting water, in consequence of earning a greater profit by justing dumping their waste can help.

Jennifer Kozubek said...

from our reading:

"pollution provides another foundation for the law of increasing costs, but has received little attention in this regard, since pollution costs are social, whereas depletion costs are usually private. On the input side the environment is partitioned into spheres of private ownership. Depletion of the environment coincides, to some degree, with depletion of the owner’s wealth, and inspires at least a minimum of stewardship. On the output
side, however, the waste absorption capacity of the environment is not subject to partitioning and private ownership. Air and water are used freely by all, and the result is a competitive, profligate exploitation--what biologist Garrett Hardin calls “commons effect,” and welfare economists call “external diseconomies,”

pg.8 Paradigms in Political Economy by Herman E. Daly

Rose Fava said...

I too agree with this article. However there is also the concern of water pollusion from run-off, which makes it even harder to regulate what is being dumped into the water. We need to controll what is being dumped but in order to actually solve the problem we would have to go beyond just stopping the primary sources of water pollusion.

Joanna Alexander said...

I think it's too optimistic to think that a new Clean Water Act will actually solve any of the water crises our planet and people face today. If the last Clean Water Act showed anything it's that the government is full of empty promises and non-action words. If there is to be a change in the current water affairs it has to come from the water corporations. The drinking water of the earth is pretty much controlled by large water corporations and if they are "owning" our water they should be the ones to make sure it is clean for everyone around the world to drink. Also, the companies that are dumping toxic wastes into our water should also be held responsible for their actions and penalized, as they have not been enough yet by the government. Overall I think it will take a lot more than a new Clean Water Act getting passed to fix all of the problems we have right now with water.

Jose Arredondo said...

I agree with the last post. The solution for this crucial problem does not only rely on a new Clean Water Act. What is needed is clearly a whole new system of distribution especially when it comes to the "owning" of water by the huge corporations. Water is not a commodity and it should not be allowed to be treated as a commodity any longer. Our government and governments around the world need to realize the importance of regulating the corporations that have turned Earth's most important resource into a commodity. Until there is change in the whole system these problems will continue to grow leading to a worse outcome than limiting the profits of the already rich companies.

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