In a misguided effort to make things easier for their corporate friends, House Republicans are pulling out all the stops this year to roll back laws that have protected our water supply for decades. The Clean Water Act, a historic piece of legislation passed in 1972 on a bipartisan basis, is at risk of being severely weakened in a few days while no one watches. We can’t have a healthy, successful nation if we’re willing to trade our most important natural resources for a few dollars in a few well-connected pockets.
This is not the first time the law has been threatened, but it’s the most serious showdown in years. Since its passage the Clean Water Act has protected our streams, rivers and lakes that provide fresh drinking water and recreation for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, two confusing and misguided Supreme Court decisions handed down in 2001 and 2006 left nearly 60 percent of our country’s streams, at least 20 million acres of wetlands, and 117 million Americans’ drinking water at increased risk of pollution. The George W. Bush administration used those two decisions as an opportunity to exclude many water sources from protection and make enforcing pollution controls much more difficult.
Today the Environmental Protection Agency is working to restore these protections. Instead of helping that effort, House Republican leaders are advancing an energy and water appropriations bill that prevents the administration from applying the Clean Water Act to many of our country’s streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. If the bill becomes law, the effect would be immediate. We're expecting the final House vote next week.
My home state of Arizona stands to bear the worst of this attack. Very suddenly, 79 percent of our streams would be open to toxic waste dumping and other forms of pollution and contamination. If my conservative colleagues get their way, the Clean Water Act would simply no longer apply.
It’s time the House majority set aside corporate special interests and put the best interests of the public first. Arizona demands it, the country demands it, and it’s the right long-term decision for the economy.
Arizona has faced some hard decisions over the years about how to keep clean water flowing out of our faucets. We all know and remember the importance of conserving water and planning wisely for the future, both in our cities and in rural areas. This misguided Republican effort doesn’t just put 3.3 million Arizonans -- and many more millions of Americans around the country -- at risk, it throws years of careful decision-making out the window. All our efforts to date would be for nothing.
Residents of Phoenix and Maricopa County -- more than 3.8 million at last count -- have much to lose. The EPA estimates that 3,014,148 people in the area will be at risk of having their drinking water polluted if these Clean Water Act protections are not guaranteed. These aren’t just scary numbers, they’re the truth. If we don’t stop this dirty water bill, 79 percent of Maricopa County residents, not to mention almost 146,000 residents of Yuma County, could pay an unacceptable price with their water, their health, and even their lives.
This will be just one of the many anti-environmental votes forced by the House Republican majority this year. Whatever else it does, it highlights the cynical attitude that guides their policy decisions. Clean water is not a luxury we buy when we’re rich and ignore when we’re not. It’s a basic human need that shouldn’t be sold to the highest corporate bidder, especially when it’s Congress -- sent to Washington to do the people’s business -- that’s doing the selling.
Arizona can't afford this threat to clean water. Neither can any other state. The many existing strains on this country’s diminishing clean water supplies, from industrial pollution to extreme forms of energy extraction to growing populations and changing climate, are enough for us to handle.