Yesterday’s Boston Globe editorial in response to Monday’s New York Times article on the Clean Water Act makes the point that Massachusetts is in a unique position because the state’s waterways are regulated under a more flexible state water act enforced by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, that’s not a panacea. Massachusetts must still support and enforce the terms of the federal Clean Water Act to keep pollution at bay.
While the DEP may enforce discharge permits in Massachusetts, it’s the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has primary responsibility for issuing them. Two US Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 have undermined the authority of the EPA by calling into question what defines a waterway eligible for protection under the Clean Water Act. The confusion over which of these waterways are legally protected has left 52% of Massachusetts’ waterways at risk for increased pollution, because EPA is no longer asserting its jurisdiction to regulate pollution flowing into them.
Congress needs to act quickly convey that the Clean Water Act applies to all waterways and must be enforced broadly and effectively.
The Clean Water Restoration Act, first introduced in Congress in April 2009, would amend the Clean Water Act to clarify that the Act applies to all US waterways as it did prior to the Supreme Court decisions. Passing the CWRA will send a message to polluters that all waterways merit equal protection under the law, and that the EPA will continue to enforce the terms of the CWA to prevent further environmental damage.
If we want clean waterways, not just for Massachusetts but throughout New England, here’s our chance to make sure that the EPA has full authority to do its job right, by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act.