On its 25th anniversary in 1997, Vice President Al Gore praised the Clean Water Act as one of America’s most important environmental laws. The Vice President recognized clean water as a "precious natural resource" that forms the very "fabric of life itself." Among its many victories, the CWA has kept billions of pounds of pollutants out of our nation's waters and has slowed the reckless loss of our nation's wetlands. Now the Act is 34, and, to our dismay, we lack a vice president to sing its praises. In fact, our current leadership appears intent on taking back the important victories we have won for clean water.
Under President Bush's leadership, the EPA has proposed rules that allow factory farms-the source of huge quantities of fecal waste in both northern and southwestern Missouri-to police themselves. Under current CWA rules, the largest of these farms need a federal permit because there is a very real danger that animal waste will contaminate our rivers. The EPA now wants factory farms to decide for themselves whether they need a permit at all. The proposal is particularly frightening given the latest deadly outbreak of E. coli in spinach, and the well known fact that livestock are a common carrier of these deadly bacteria. This "free ride" for factory farms is just one of the Administration’s many assaults on the CWA.
In another assault, President Bush and the Army Corps of Engineers want to make it easier for developers to fill the nation's streams and wetlands while making it harder for the public to hold those developers accountable. Missouri has already lost more than 80% of its historic wetlands. With a weakened Clean Water Act, we stand to lose them all.
In many cases, the Clean Water Act is environmentalists' last line of defense against rapacious development and would-be polluters. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, the Coalition for the Environment has made important strides in cleaning up Missouri's rivers and streams. Though the Act could be stronger, we certainly don't want it weaker.
In its 34th year, let's not let the Bush Administration weaken the Clean Water Act. Let us recognize the importance of maintaining and even strengthening the Act, and together, let us sing its praises.
Commentary by Kim Knowles
Missouri Coalition for the Environment