This Environmental Law Made Half of America’s Fresh Waters Swimmable and Fishable

Oct 26, 2022 · 221 comments
Marco (Singapore)
The conservative Justices of the Supreme Court would let the world burn just to protect their own selfish interests.
pat knapp (milwaukee)
It isn't dirty water that hurts us so much. It's dirty lies that are told by so many of our politicians in their service to dirty industries. Yes, the lies. And Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson, one of my home state's environmental heroes, has been replaced by Senator Ron Johnson, one of our nation's biggest protectors of dirty water, air and land. And one of our biggest, most reliable liars.
Unclebugs (Far West Texas)
I do not expect this SCOTUS to do what is in the best interests of all the people, so it will give this landowner what this landowner wants and de-nut the Clean Waters Act just as it de-nutted the Voting Rights Act. SCOTUS is oblivious to the impact of Climate Change and the traumatic effects it will have on freshwater across this country and world because its me first mentality puts the rest of us in danger just like it has acted in terms of gun rights.
Dick (Kansas)
Once again, Republicans choose the least effective means to help the environment, in their eternal quest for more profit, the planet and its people be damned. Truly despicable that these people evidence zero compulsion to even APPEAR decent or caring of their environment.
ChrisW (DC)
Not according to Millenials and the various Alphabets who say we left them with a polluted planet they don’t want to have children in.
ChrisW (DC)
Dang. According to the Gens and Millenials, us people who passed these laws left them with a horrible world, as they fish, boat and recreate and get drunk to post on Instagram and TikTok!
Thinking Aloud (Brooklyn)
I understand and share the impulse to protect US wetlands, but this case is as much about federal overreach as anything else. The Sacketts had complied with all state and local permitting requirements and had no standing water on their property. The nearest water that would remotely qualify was a ditch on the other side of a paved road. If memory serves, the EPA then levied astronomical fines on a family that had obeyed all regulations with which it was presented. The definition of wetlands (year-round standing water?) and EPA authority (navigable waterways?) perhaps need to be better defined but this isn’t a case of rapacious plunder.
Pleistocene Rewilding (Minneapolis)
@Thinking Aloud The bigger question is why should we want to be building ever more and encroaching on natural areas? Why not give nature more space, not less? I will give you a personal example. I have a brother who hired an attorney to get a variance to build a home right next to a stream in a suburb of Boston. He got the variance because he thought it was a good deal for himself. He then sold the home two years later. He then built a large home in a private 50 unit housing development in the middle of a 1400 acre forest preserve in western New Jersey. Although he lived in the middle of a large natural area, he didn't seem to appreciate it that much, and didn't bother to learn about all the local flora and fauna ( New Jersey has one of the greatest diversity of trees and shrubs in the country). He complained a lot about the high property taxes in his town and state, and that there was too much park land, not paying taxes. He has since sold the large house and just lives in a centrally located townhouse. I
Walter Ingram (Western MD)
This Supreme Court was put into place for one reason and one reason only, to protect corporate interests.
Michael Gilbert (Charleston SC)
This is exactly why Republicans can't be trusted with supervision over natural resources. The first chance they get environmental laws will be overridden, gutted, or chipped away at until they are meaningless. It's like they live in a magical world where they breathe different air and drink different water than the rest of us. If they take control kiss regulations that protect the environment goodbye.
Pleistocene Rewilding (Minneapolis)
We need more wetlands not less, not only for biodiversity, but to hold both more water, and soil on the land. Both droughts and flooding are becoming more severe with global warming. This is a problem throughout the US. Before European settlement as many as 400 million beaver dams were in North America. These beaver dams may have been responsible for much of the carbon rich soil along streams. We need to save more, not less space along streams for more beaver dams. Beavers could do a lot of free work mitigating climate change. How exciting. Just let nature heal the planet. Wetland soils also have a near limitless ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, hundreds of tons per acre. Fossil fuels, of course, were once wetland soils a long time ago, and had been buried deep in the earth until humans brought them to the surface to burn as fuel. We are not looking at the obvious solutions to climate change--just more wetlands, prairie, and forest, each of which can sequester from the atmosphere a ton or more of carbon per acre per year. But few like the idea of setting more land aside for nature to work its magic and reverse global warming all on its own. How sad.
Pleistocene Rewilding (Minneapolis)
@Pleistocene Rewilding Temperate wetlands are some of the best carbon sinks in the world, with the fastest rates of carbon sequestration. However most temperate wetlands have been drained for urban and agricultural use. Iowa has lost 95% of its prairie pothole wetlands in the northwest area of the state. These used to cover up to 6 million acres or 11% of Iowa. 50 to 60% of the prairie potholes have been lost in the northern Plains states and Canada. We need to rewet drained wetlands, and what better way to do it than with reintroducing beavers. Most states still have laws that prohibit the re-introduction of beavers. Beaver ponds also serve as fire breaks, which are needed everywhere, especially in forested areas. A few ranchers are discovering that beavers help hold water on the land, and promote more vegetation growth, especially in the arid West. Right next to my dad's house on a bluff of the Minnesota River is a green ash and black willow bog with 10 feet thick, black as coal peat, deposited since the last glaciers 15,000 years ago. What a tremendous carbon sink. A storm sewer outlet had eroded and exposed the peat, so that it was visible.
Blackmamba (IL)
Water is essential to preserving.protecting and defending life as we have known it past and present on Earth. Unfortunately many Americans are way too scientifically ignorant, illiterate and stupid to understand the biological, chemical, geological and hydrological significant relationships of our lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and swamps to evolutionary fit natural selection of life as we know it. Article III judges are no different from most Americans. Giving substantial deference to administrative executive professional scientific expertise should be the norm. Substituting artifical legal tests is a perilous path. Fraught with forever balancing legal certainty and equitable justice exceptions. Ecology is that branch of biological science that studies the dynamic relationships among and between organisms and their environments. And the concept of the niche aka the roles organisms play is basic.
Paul (Earth)
The scene in the beginning of the Sopranos where Tony is driving by Newark airport. There were chemical refineries there in the sixties. The sky was always yellow and it always stank. Yet people (republicans) want that to return. For money.
Walter Ingram (Western MD)
@Paul It is the chemicals in the air you can't see that are the problem now. There are warnings about only eating a limited number of fish out of most lakes in the US because of the airborne chemicals deposited in them.
Scott (NYC)
Well written, thanks!
Barbara (Myrtle Beach)
Much of the success in cleaning up rivers is due to dedicated riverkeepers, specialists who are paid relatively little for their efforts to keep rivers clean and to improve them. I am privileged to know one, Mary Mushinsky, also a state representative from Wallingford, CT. In her latter capacity, she obtained a grant to install a fish ladder in the Quinnipiac River which empties in New Haven harbor. I remember the days when there was a clear demarcation in the sky over Chicago. The Lake Michigan side was clear while the city side was gray. Granules of coal dust were my constant foe, landing on my floors, furniture and window sills daily. It's bad enough that climate change is unlikely to be reined in. The EPA must be allowed to regulate water and air.
Aaron (Orange County, CA)
Let's just cut to the chase... Any parts of the Clean Water Act that will eventually be challenged in the Supreme Court will be ruled as unconstitutional. Kiss the EPA goodbye while were at it.
Lorton (NoVA)
How is/ are clean water, clean air, green spaces, etc not America First? Why can’t we talk about these challenges in this format. Who cares if the other side came up with the catchphrase.
Good John Fagin (Chicago Suburbs)
Yes, Virginia, along with Santa Claus, there are federal programs that actually work as intended. Not many, and certainly not popular, but this one is certainly proof that we can elect some public officials who improve our lives. Officials who "Make America Great" in some venues, for the first time. Thanks for reminding us.
Dick (Kansas)
@Good John Fagin : No thanks, of course, to the Republican environmental destruction greed machine, and its disgusting political functionaries, wholly-owned as they are by amoral "biddness".
John McCoy (Long Beach, CA)
Is this another “half a loaf” tale”? Inquiring minds want to know about the other half of America’s waters that aren’t in good condition.
Tim Berry (Mont Vernon, NH)
Would that be the law that our "supreme" Court wants to gut !
T Cat (Tempe)
The fact that this illegitimate radical court has agreed to hear this case likely foretells the doom of the Clean Water Act. The results of the horrific ruling will be forgotten by a ignorant public, until fire comes out of their taps. Trump already weakened the Clean Water Act, and it is never mentioned. The Sacketts care not that they will weaken the EPA and doom millions to fetid water, nor are they strangers to the Court. "In 2012, the justices heard — and ultimately agreed with — the Sacketts’ argument that they had the right to go to court to challenge a compliance order EPA had issued against the couple in 2007 for filling the Priest Lake property with dirt and rock to prepare the land for construction." "In 2015, Michael Sackett was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to a sex crime (Greenwire, March 31, 2016)." I add the latter so you know the selfish, immoral and evil nature of these Me Firsters. They care not one wit about you, our planet, or our country. I'm wondering who bankrolls them as getting to the Supreme Court is not cheap. These are the type of humans that will doom us all. They are legion, and 6 of this type sit on the SC. Is there no one in Justice Roberts life or in any of the ghastly 6 that can reach them to make them understand the appalling , shameful legacy they are leaving to this country, its people, its future? Their own families? Their horrific rulings put blood on their hands, but it is never their own.
Ed (Washington DC)
Protection of the uses of waterbodies requires, usually, limitations on what can be dumped into the waterbody upstream of those uses. The CWA accounts for this. Quite ingenious actually. EPAs Waters of the US regulations would have protected source areas for navigable waters from discharges and disruptions that would limit or otherwise adversely affect downstream uses. Source areas that include headwaters and wetlands. Such protections seem essential for the protection of our nation’s future waterbodies and supplies.
Paul (Earth)
Nixon, did he ever do one good thing?
T Cat (Tempe)
@Paul Yes, he created the EPA, which the current illegitimate radicals on the Supreme Court are trying to kill. Gorsuch, he of the stolen seat, had a mother who was appointed by ole Ronny as head of the EPA, specifically to sabotage it from the inside, a ploy that Trump repeated.
Dick (Kansas)
@Paul : Yes. EPA, and engagement with China, not that we've handled either well in subsequent decades.
mm (Conn)
Regulation is just the rule of law for corporations. I can't drive drunk and Dow Chemical can't dump PFAS in the Cape Fear river. Except that they can and do.
ChrisW (DC)
@mm Umm, Cape Fear is in NC, not Connecticut?
Cathie H (New Zealand)
Reading how a bipartisan Congress overrode Nixon's veto of the Clean Air Act it strikes me that the world would be a far better place today if political parties were outlawed - along with political lobbyists and the corruption they inevitably spawn. The death of bipartisanship has seen a stark polarisation of politics where representatives are forced to compromise on principle and against their better judgment. We should move beyond today's politics of vitriol, and opposition for opposition's sake, and learn to debate proposals rationally and courteously without any pressure to tow some party line.
Juan (Austin, Texas)
Like too many NYT opinion pieces, this op-ed sets up a straw man that has nothing to do with the Sackett case. The Sackett's have never polluted waters of the United States. This case has nothing to do with water pollution or possible future water pollution. The op-ed writer writes as if a Sackett win would give them permission to dump used motor oil into the lake. The essential problem is that the U.S. Congress failed to write into he law a legal definition of "jurisdictional wetlands". That has been left up to federal bureaucrats whose opinions and delineations blow with the political winds and personal prejudices.
SJW51 (Cape Cod)
@Juan Their lot was landlocked residential-zoned piece of land in a mostly built-out subdivision. There was no body of water on it just areas that were soggy. Nothing even remotely close to navigable waters. This a case of bureaucrats gone mad.
d ross (oakland)
@Juan No, it doesn't.
Pleistocene Rewilding (Minneapolis)
@SJW51 Soggy grounds are wetlands, exactly what should be protected. Draining wetlands and soggy ground leads to high rates of soil oxidation and the release of carbon back into the atmosphere. Soil oxidation is a leading cause of global warming. We should have large setbacks from wetlands, and then allow beavers to dam waterways and enlarge wetlands even further. As many as 400 million beaver dams were in North America before European settlement. 130 billion tons or more of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the beginning of agriculture with human caused soil degradation. Wetland preservation and expansion should be a core part of climate mitigation.
Sparkle Mahn (West of Everything)
Went wading in Lake Erie around 1993. It was a disgusting garbage dump! Humans are a blight on the Earth when it comes to protecting the natural environment.
Old Soldier (USA)
No one should be surprised to learn Justice Scalia, a conservative, a self-proclaimed person of religious values took the side of those that would defile the earth, harm the creatures of water, land and air, and make wide areas of the only planet humans inhabit hazardous to humans. I am fairly certain the conservative Roberts court will not miss the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to personal freedom in Sackett v. E.P.A., especially when doing so advances the interests of corporations and the wealthy. Our sacrosanct Constitution was designed to protect the property and political power of the 10%. Our nation’s political system is driven by court protected legalized bribery and voter suppression. The sad truth is we live in a land where laws are crafted to support a political economy that preys on the many to grow the wealth and power of the few. The tragedy of chemicals in the water of Flint MI was not an accident, nor was it an anomaly, it is just one example in a long history of conservative actions that compromised the common good to advance the interests of the few. After retiring from the military I have come to understand my service did not help protect the welfare and rights of the many, it mostly supported the greed and power of the few.
Rosie (Durham)
@Old Soldier Well said. The .01% gives us just enough so we don't rise up and rebel. They market lies so effectively the average person will vote to eliminate health care for his family and social security for his parents. Humans are an ignorant species that despoils the very air we need to breathe and water we need to survive.
Chuck Bernstein (Arlington, VA)
While we’re commenting on the substance of this piece, let’s also stop to appreciate the author, Robert Semple. He won his Pulitzer 26 years ago by inveighing on behalf of protecting the environment, and was instrumental in stopping a mine that would have caused serious pollution in Yellowstone Park. I spoke with Bob frequently during my 20 years working for an environmental group, and was continually astounded by not only his passion but his encyclopedic knowledge. Heck, he’s forgotten more about the environment than I ever learned, and he’s still fighting the good fight at a point where most of his contemporaries have long since retired. When the definitive history of environmental protection is written, his name will be prominent. And if your children and grandchildren enjoy cleaner air and water, intact ecosystems, and a safer climate, they should thank Mr. Semple.
ERS (Edinburgh)
Thank you, Pete Seeger. I've always enjoyed living on the Hudson, and am glad he did too.
Jeff Sher (San Francisco)
Restricting the reach of the Act would not be just a shame. It would be an environmental catastrophe, and clearly there is no general benefit to restricting the Act. And yet it appears likely that this unelected gang of radicals (aka the Supreme Court right wing majority) will ignore science and reality once again and assert that water pollution was not mentioned in the constitution 200+ years ago, or some other nonsense, thus thwarting, once again, the preferences of the majority of Americans. How long can we tolerate this, let alone survive it.
Sam (Chia Earth)
I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Sacketts, from their point of view they probably feel like they bought property in good faith to build a home (in what is surely one of the most libertarian states in the country) and the heavy hand of the State capriciously slapped them down. Waterways are, of course, all one, and particularly in North Idaho where lakefront properties take their value from the health of the water and take their drinking water from the lakes we should be concerned about water quality. The EPAs heavy hand seems unnecessary though ... there was and is surely an architectural compromise that could satisfy both the health of the water flow off the lot to the lake and allow the Sacketts to build a home. This case seems like 2 bulls in a china shop.
JFR (Rochester, NY)
@Sam Any news of the Sacketts offering compromise?
True American (USA)
You should have kept this quiet. Now Republicans will want to stop this. The GOP can not have good things happen for all people. They must be kept frightened and scared so they go to fast food restaurants with guns loaded and drink poisoned water. How else can they win if their base 9snt poor, scared and sick? We can not have policies that work. Whose idea was this??? Vote GOP so we can stop it. Save the children!!!
Bee man of Orn (Plano, TX)
Government overreach that increases the cost of doing business. SCOTUS will strike it down.
Jonh901271 (Tampa)
@Bee man of Orn That was the argument against the original Clean Water Act. The cost of doing business includes protecting the environment.
JFR (Rochester, NY)
@Bee man of Orn Almost all regulation increases the cost of doing business, starting with “Thou shall not steal.”
thector (Puerto Rico)
We all know Republicans in and out of the Supreme Court don't care if a policy delivers results They will rule against the EPA Arguments of any kind are spurious The only roles they see for government are putting people in prison or sending them to war
PJM (La Grande, OR)
Given the intent of the CWA, requiring a continuous surface connection is a pathetic joke. Just because you can see the connection while standing on the ground does not mean that the waterbodies are not connected. It almost sounds like an exchange between a bunch of 8-year old kids. The fact is that contaminants can and will flow to rivers via subsurface flows. If we want our rivers to be safe, we need to stop acting like kids.
John (OR)
Is it too late to bring Ryan Zinke up on charges of violating the CWA?
Marie L. (East Point, Georgia)
Laws matter. Elected officials matter. Voting matters.
Dorothy Wiese (San Antonio)
@Marie L. The price of gas matters more. Please vote Democratic.
Jim (NYC)
I fear we are doomed. Our air and water will be contaminated because Trump appointed unqualified radical right judges who will always defend money over far more important resources. In allowing builders, farms, and industry to pollute to save a buck, they will be stealing our collective natural resources from our children.
Ibn Battuta (At Large)
My money is on Scotus to blight the environment and use this case as a pretext to greenlight the polluters. It is time for progressives to stop talking and start acting. It is time for the blue states to ignore the ignoramuses on the court. A good place to start would be for NY and CA to use their financial clout and declare that they will not obey Scotus ruling that cites the execrable 2nd amendment, and institute their own sensible gun control legislation instead. Dare the Feds to prosecute, and let the MAGAs gnash their teeth. The court has become nothing but a bunch of lackeys for the extreme right and out of control corporations. Progressives need to wrest back control,
Flyover Country (Anywhere)
You correctly identify the problem, but it isn't the jurisdictional reach of the CWA as it doesn't address much less solve the biggest threat to the WOTUS - pollution from the over application of poultry litter and manure to agricultural fields. "That, in turn, will require stricter enforcement of existing laws by the E.P.A., including far more robust efforts to control runoff from factory farms. It will require stronger federal oversight of state agencies tasked with carrying out the law." Require nutrient management plans for all application of litter or manure, prohibit application in excess of what the crops need now, require cover crops and don't allow application on bare fields or frozen ground in the winter. Better yet don't allow big AG to externalization the cost of disposal for their waste stream to farmers, yet contractually micromanage every other decision of production. You wouldn't have to overreach on definition of wetlands if we didn't give big Ag a total pass on their waste stream disposal. Less to filter out, the less filter you need.
Bob (Evanston, IL)
We all know what SCOTUS will do with the Sackett case. We also know that if the Republicans had their druthers, they would repeal the Clean Water Act, as well as all other environmental laws that prevent this country from choking on its waste. These laws are part and parcel of the detested "administrative state."
Myasara (Brooklyn)
Well, we all know the bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court will rule however its overlords tell it to.
John (OR)
@Myasara Ginni says she's open to receiving monies from anyone.
lester ostroy (Redondo Beach, CA)
I was surprised to read that this important environmental act was created while Nixon was president. I was brought back to my senses to read in this story that Nixon vetoed it! But the veto was over ridden by bipartisan votes in the Congress.
SA (Massachusetts)
@lester ostroy There was a time when Republicans were honest and responsible people, even Nixon. That's all over now, and this country is basically toast.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa)
One of my husband's proudest moments as a career marine biologist was testifying before Congress on behalf of what was to become The Clean Water Act. It was his formal beginning of what was to become a both personal and professional life dedicated to to the environment in general and our Pacific ocean, rivers, lakes, and wetlands specifically. He has recently passed on, but until the end he asked me to read articles from both the Times' and our Sonoma County newspapers related to our waterways. Too many people, and I especially refer to Republican politicians in Congress, put not only our lives but also those of their children and grandchildren at risk because of their comfortable abodes in the back pockets of wealthy, indeed, greedy industrialists. It is beyond disheartening that the powers-that-be are so egregious and, well, amoral that they put the riches of today before the health of those who live, drink the water, and breathe the air crucial to our existences. Mr. Semple, thank you for your words: "The Clean Water Act has been an exceptionally constructive law." When you think about it, it has been life-saving. Too bad more Americans do not think enough before they vote those in office who find this Act obstructive to their self-seeking interests.
Paul (Long Island, NY)
@Kathy Lollock Thanks to your husband and you
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa)
@Kathy Lollock Our pleasure, Paul. His legacy lives on through our daughters, too. They were babes-in-arms when their dad began his education of our precious resources. He worked for the CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife. One of his first major jobs there was that of Chief of Environment Services with a focus on the states' wetlands. The developers here did not like coming up against this tenacious protector of the Public Trust!
Karen Sjogren (Salem, oregon)
Thank you this informative article about a very important upcoming Supreme Court case. I hope the Court sides with the definition of wetlands articulated by Justice Kennedy.
Dennis (Oregon)
Clean water means everything to my quality of life. I am quite sure others share my interest in a wild outdoors filled with a diversity of living and wild things. Years ago, a small group of anglers raised a few thousand dollars to counter a Canadian mining company with 700 million dollars in cash reserves who wanted to build a gold mine on the edge of Yellowstone Park. Nobody gave us a chance of stopping this project. The reason we eventually won was because of the wetlands issue. The company could not construct the acid lake they needed to bury their waste. The Wyoming Dept. of Environmental Quality would not issue a permit, and the Wyoming governor (yes, believe it or not) subsequently opposed the mine proposal. The Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone runs wild and free to this day because of this wonderful legislation.
Davidicus (New Brunswick)
A while ago, in Missouri, I was in an auto repair shop and a woman in the queue in front of me told the mechanic that she didn’t want him to recycle the oil from her oil change. She said, out loud, as if to make sure that everyone could benefit from her thrifty wisdom, that she used the dirty oil to kill the weeds in the cracks in her driveway. Not kidding. Unable to contain myself at this show of belligerent ignorance, I pointed out to her that, one, there’s a law against that, and two, all of that oil is going straight into the ground water and from there, straight into the Mississippi River. Humans, particularly the Republican ones, seem to have a very hard time imagining the “downstream” effects of their actions, as it were.
Tom (ohio)
@Davidicus Thanks for sharing your anecdote. Of course she should not pour oil on her driveway, but try to keep in mind, oil is a natural substance too!
edonley (chicago)
Give the Republicans 30 seconds of absolute power and that landmark regulation would be in the dustbin.
M Ford (USA)
If the Democrats could write a law that didn't include racial stereotypes about people based on race, they might pass one. They included that junk in the criminal justice reform bill, abortion bill and even the bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. This is consistent with the Democrats' strategy to make legislation not pass to make the Republicans look bad. The Republicans are looking bad, but so is our democracy and our waterways. "Reproductive justice seeks to address restrictions on reproductive health, including abortion, that perpetuate systems of oppression, lack of bodily autonomy, white supremacy, and anti-Black racism. This violent legacy has manifested in policies including enslavement, rape, and experimentation on Black women; forced sterilizations; medical experimentation on low-income women’s reproductive systems; and the forcible removal of Indigenous children." Fortunately, abortion rights advocates in Michigan didn't include that in their bill, or I won't have voted for it. Democrats in Michigan wanted to secure abortion rights as opposed to deliberately sabotaging the bill to make Trump look bad. It worked. I voted straight Republican and pro-choice.
Pierre Angelique (Los Angeles)
@M Ford Democrats don't really want to win when it comes to issues like environmental reform or wealth equality, as far as I can tell. They act more as the controlled opposition. As you point out, liberal "race realism" ends up alienating a lot of voters, especially working class voters who historically would skew more to the left. Instead, this messaging mainly appeals to aspiring PMC (professional managerial class) types, who wield notions of race as a cudgel for advancing their careers. From a rhetorical standpoint, Republican messaging has been effective because they at least treat you like an individual rather than reduce you to some kind of monolithic racial abstraction, albeit in a hyperbolic way that invites its own kinds of problems. In either case the environment will continue to be destroyed, and the vast majority of us will continue to be poor.
True American (USA)
So you don't know yourself and need republicans to tell you. ok. Go get some of that water! that will fix it
Monk (North East Kingdom, VT)
@M Ford: Dem strategy is to make legislation not pass. Resulting in polluted waterways? Interesting history rewrite with a brave leap. I don't know how Republicans look "bad" when it is considered by them to a virtue for half the House to look horrible to Dems. 70% of Republicans still think Trump is good. Pretending the Republicans have not stonewalled everything they can in the Senate pipeline doesn't make sense. Republican voters admire blind congressional stonewalling for primitive culture wars.
me (monroe, ar)
Yep, you want to be able to hunt and fish without contamination or complete decimation, you have to regulate big business. Thank the EPA for what we do have.
T Norris (Florida)
Perhaps SCOTUS will surprise us in a positive way regarding the Sackett case. Stranger things have happened.
MomoTongba (Rocky Mountains, USA)
Here in the Wild Western US, where whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over, rivers are the bellwether for the future. While water quality is an ongoing issue for many communities in the US, water quantity - and its allocation - is clearly the issue of the day here. Long term drought and overallocation continue to dry up and degrade the creeks, streams, wetlands and rivers throughout the five states of the Colorado River basin. Yet amazingly, magical thinking and profiteering still rule the day. Along Colorado's Front Range, for example, unchecked real estate and housing developments are sucking up water that we don't have and will have even less of in the not too distant future. The agriculture-based economy, small town charm, quiet streets and open vistas that we cherish are being destroyed. Yes people need places to live, but why destroy the nest in the process? Short term, human-centered, individualistic thinking and the profit motive must not drive public policy any more. Western water law, policies and practices that stem from the 1800s need a major overhaul in face of the current reality. Talk about outdated!
Battey (Houston)
@MomoTongba It's the dairy and beef industries that are drying up the lakes in the West. Dairy cows are fed alfalfa, which requires huge amounts of water, as does the feed and processing of cattle.
Battey (Houston)
@Battey ... for the feeding and processing of beef.
MomoTongba (Rocky Mountains, USA)
@Battey Ah yes, the beef issue. For me its all about scale, specifically industrial vs small-medium. Also free range over feed lots/CAFOs. Ranching and beef production on this scale can be done ecologically, Sadly our savage capitalism does not support it and environmentally friendly beef is only accessible to wealthy people. Same for organic foods. I'd much rather support these kinds of ranches and farms, and have them as neighbors, as opposed to cookie-cutter housing tracts that degrade the environment and resource base for all. Thanks for comments, we're on the same team.
tom (midwest)
Given incessant conservative attacks in legislatures and the courts on the laws that made our waters clean, it will not take long to reverse the progress. What kind of country do conservatives want to leave their children and grandchildren when all the money will not buy clean air or clean water? What do conservatives conserve anyways?
Aldo Leopoldo (Sand Counties, USA, World 🌎)
In 1972 we saw burning rivers and we took substantive bipartisan steps to repair the problem. Today we see burning forests, we ignore that problem AND move to undo the good we did in 1972. Thanks rigged Supreme Court, thanks overly powerful monied corporations, thanks uncaring citizens.
Dana (Before the Mast)
Imagine, the EPA was born out of bipartisanship. What will bring that collective reasoning back? It used to be burning rivers. Now it is burning forests, blistered farmland and a predominately devilish red supreme court. And now what? Mark Zuckerberg creating a meta-verse version of the perfect world for us? I cringe. Communities must organize now, pool their resources and channel tax dollars to regional infrastructure securing an answer for a burning world in the current and unfortunate hands of plutocrats.
Monk (North East Kingdom, VT)
Republican Environmentalism: Arbor Day: Photo op planting a poplar in a city park. Protecting Endangered Species: Siberian Tiger Fund Energy: Zero-Sum petro-to-fertilizer-to-ethanol ball & cup trick Transportation: Increase efficiency cautiously: 1 mpg/ decade Oil: Extract 1 gal tar sands per 3 gal H20 till Alberta's a dead zone Coal: Call it "clean" Solar: Talk about cloudy days. Remind people no sun at night. Wind Turbines: Finally, concern about migratory birds. Natural Gas: Pump toxic fracking water into earthquake fault. Nuclear: Plants clean the air of C02 that trees & volcanoes make. Rising Seas: Build a wall. Deforestation: Offset by paying golf club greens fees Desertification: Divert Colorado River to Las Vegas
SJW51 (Cape Cod)
@Monk The Dems environmentalism, 50,000 acres of solar PV to supply 50,000 homes of electricity for only when the sun shines. Bullet trains that never get built. EVs that pollute more than ICEs and cost twice as much Mass Transit Systems that don’t work and are bankrupt Housing developments in forests and then claim climate change when they burn done. Rolling blackouts because of energy shortages and mismanagement. No thanks. I’ll take the Repubs.
Monk (North East Kingdom, VT)
@SJW51: None of those actually have anything to do with either party, or aren't even things - like Democrat Forests. Whereas the list above it are actually things, if not memes. Plus: Typical Republican Sense of Humor, i.e., no sense of irony. Wait, I forgot rolling blackouts in TX where most power is generated by natural gas. Which does work great in Spring and Fall but not great if you don't plan infrastructure for growth like they didn't. So I'm wrong, because in TX, failing electric does have to do with one party. Too bad they hate wind and solar in one of the sunniest and windiest part of the states. BTW : Residential solar power installations rose by 34% from 2.9 gigawatts in 2020 to 3.9 gigawatts in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a government agency that collects and analyzes information about the energy industry. Thanks for proving my point Republicans always point to clouds in discussions about Solar. Clouds CAN reduce panel efficiency by 10 -25%. So in fairness, that statement is 10% to one-quarter correct.
Shenorock (NY)
As someone who gravitates to the water daily and enjoys a pretty sunset on the Hudson, it's most important to vote DEM especially in Northern Westchester and Putnam. Republicans are climate deniers, are dillusional when it comes to clean energy, clean water and green infrustructure. The Republican Party of Westchester has done nothing and more nothing to advocate for clean water, modernization of sewers so waste water doesn't flow into our waterways.
John (Malibu)
Cases like this should remind us (any particularly Supreme Court justices!) of Barry Commoner's 4 laws of the environment. Paraphrasing, they are: 1. Everything has to go somewhere. 2. Everything's connected to everything. 3. Nature generally knows best. 4. There's no such thing as a free lunch.
DavidL (New York)
@John Right - and one more well known, related law: "You can't do just one thing."
David (Patagonia, AZ)
An important article, especially regarding the Sacketts v. E.P..A case on the Supreme Court's schedule.
Pisqua, And His Runt, One Eyed Cat (who Famously mocks dopers) (Saintly Cruz, Calif.)
Eloquent beautiful lip service from Nixon to the environment: “... shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done...” And then from the article we have the quote “bubbling with subsurface gases” Which doesn’t make sense because the gases are actually originating somewhere from below the surface… But I guess That is journalism Why would the authors of this article use the phrase “so called”, as in “... so-called point-source pollution ...”? Point-source pollution is as plain as the nose on your face! Point source pollution is somethings obvious as a factory, sitting there spewing out its waste byproducts, whereas a NON point-source polluter is quite a bit more tricky to find (and define), because that would engulf something such as an automobile or possibility the airline industry, only because they both are not a building that’s got a permanent location... definitions that are written in stone to be applied to something EPA would be better suited to go after... I’m just talking off the top of my head from what I was learned in my Environment and Business Management coursework during better days in academia. Also, in summation it’s great to hear that, before something as grand as CWA 72 came along, thing could’ve been a lot less pleasant, but it’s surprising to hear the claims of Nixon being the environmentalist, whereas it was Congress who actually made CWA a reality i’m just talking off the top of my head from what I rem
View from the street (Chicago)
We already know how the Supreme Court will rule.
al (Midwest)
These laws have unintended costly side effects...what are they? This is not reporting, this is advocacy of the worst kind...and we are so happy that we can swim and fish? You laud the cleaner water and streams/lakes...but what about the other costs? How many companies closed down factory's and offshored (much to the detriment of where they located)? How many went out of busines and left employees high and dry? How many jobs lost? How many broken familes?
Splat (Rockville, WV)
@al Many articles have been written, demonstrating that environmental protection is a net job creator. Here's one, though you can Google the issue yourself: https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/microeconomics/market-failure-and-the-role-of-government/environmental-regulation/a/the-benefits-and-costs-of-u-s-environmental-laws-cnx
Gil (LI, NY)
@al So there is no one in this country who can figure ways to mitigate the side effects? So we should have allowed the companies to continue to pollute here instead of there? Environmental costs were but a portion of the excuses companies used to offshore. How many lives were broken and lost to the negative health effects? How many still are?
Robin (CO)
@al If your factory is harming people and the planet and won't clean up its activity, then it should shut down or be forced to.
Derek Stevens (Las Vegas)
Unfortunately does anyone seriously think that the likes of DeSantis, Abbott, Trump, Jordan, Hawley, Cruz, McConnell, McCarthy, and the rest of the MAGA fascists give the proverbial rodent’s behind about the state of our environment, especially as the worst damage is done to areas affecting poor people, and people of color? If the Republicans take back congress, we will not only lose our democracy, we will also lose the last chance we have for a livable planet.
FS (Fl)
@Derek Stevens Yes, and there go “our children and grandchildren” and out comes “our thought and prayers” are with you, and “God bless America.”
MikeH (Upstate NY)
Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious what this court will do.
Brad Baker (NYC)
All this is happening when the big money people want to bring manufacturing back to the states. Especially Tech chip making here in NYS. How do any of these corporations intend to comply with the EPA standards that have improved so much of our country? There is only one way, change the law. They are already trying. Vote Blue for blue skies, blue water and a blue future!
Cate (New Mexico)
"Clean Water Act", "Environmental Protection Agency"--what I'm unable to figure out is why we human beings invent our lifestyle ways that are so terribly damaging to the health of the Earth--the very place we must depend upon for our own survival. Yet, I've thought for several years that as a part of the larger, natural order of things in life, perhaps human beings are really just a necessary facet to the causes of breakdown on Earth that cycle before a new rearrangement takes place to ultimately create new configurations of existence--perhaps without the human element being present in the future. I'm not condoning allowing wanton destruction of the natural world, just suggesting that perhaps human beings need to fully recognize that we are inescapably always a part of this constantly changing life system. That said, it's still perplexing to see that our human economic development, believed to offer us a better chance for assured survival, turns out to be the very thing that is ultimately destroying our very ability to continue existing. Ironically, environmental law is, after all, just another human invention.
MJ (Mountain Junky) (Chicago)
One "interpretation" is clearly political and not based on simple and sounds science. And it not only ignores the intent, but also the explicit wording of the act. The other "interpretation" is obviously the correct one for anyone not trying to circumvent the acts regulatory scope. First off, with absolute certainty water bodies can be connected under ground. Secondly, if two liquids of similar densities touch, then they will mix. Water is a shared national resource. A private party does not have the right to sully it for everyone else. Now, if you want to argue does a home on a large lot of a wetland sully the land scope? I think that is a slightly different question. The short answer is yet. The longer and just as correct answer of "How much?" is directly correlated to size, building method, building materials, frequency and types of use by the home owners, and mitigations and remediation are done to the land after it is built. The intent of the clean water act is clear. And as you will see below, it specifically states surface and underground waters "The Administrator shall, after careful investigation, and in cooperation with other Federal agencies, State water pollution control agencies, interstate agencies, and the municipalities and industries involved, prepare or develop comprehensive programs for preventing, reducing, or eliminating the pollution of the navigable waters and ground waters and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters."
Cordelia ☀️ (New Canaan)
Governor Sunni's father stopped us from confronting climate change in the seventies. We all need to demand our leaders do better right now.
DurhamGuy (Durham, NC)
You can't have clean rivers, lakes, and streams if the smaller upstream tributaries that feed them are polluted. It's that simple. Headwater wetlands play an important role in maintaining the water quality of those smaller tributaries that might not even flow continually.
Jane K (Northern California)
I often think the reason so many people deny climate change and refuse to accept the fact that we need to make changes in how we move forward is the success of the EPA and environmental protections. The reason this country and planet are not further along in climate change, pollution and unbreathable air is because of the strong will of our people and politicians 50 years ago. The Great Lakes were cleaned up as the article referenced, the San Francisco Bay also benefited from the environmental movement. California’s air pollution was reduced drastically by Clean Air legislation. The entire country benefited because car manufacturers made vehicles that conformed to laws here across the country. The ozone hole was decreased because of quick action to eliminate the ozone depleting chemicals. It seems that the successes of the environmental movement made many complacent and unwilling to believe that we need to sacrifice for the future. It is unfortunate we need to be on the brink of disaster in order to believe the scientific community about how to fix our earth now. Hopefully, it is not too late.
Caroline Pufalt (St Louis MO)
Water, hydrology and physics- the court needs an education on all.
Brez (Spring Hill, TN)
The solution here, as it is in so many cases, is to vote Republicans out of office, and keep them out.
I speak cat (Arrowsic, Me)
Excellent piece on what is happening and what needs to be done. The Kennebec River in Maine is a success to be proud of.
b fagan (chicago)
The laws have left us better off than we would have been, and also formed the framework that let us successfully reduce sulfur dioxide pollution - so the acid-rain crisis on this continent diminished. The cleanup still needed for old sources of pollution is a large set of large tasks, but Congress (and the Supreme Court) have to keep a few things in mind. Flooding events are increasing, as rainfall events intensify and as higher seas give coastal floods a head-start in elevation on land that had previously been crucial inches above risk. The point-source vs. non-point-source distinction has to go away - what is sitting ON someone's property, whether it's fertilizers, manures or industrial chemicals, is becoming more likely, not less, to end up washed off of private property and have harmful effects on the public. So what washes off of Iowa farmland raises costs in Des Moines to remove toxic nitrogen compounds that endanger infants. What washes off Ohio farmland into the Maumee River ends up causing toxic algal blooms that kill fish in Lake Erie and risk toxins in drinking water for Toledo and other communities. If what was applied on someone's land stayed there, regulations wouldn't be necessary. But runoff from farms and from city and suburban roads and lawns - non-point-source pollution - is creating ever-larger dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Chesapeake and elsewhere. All pollution needs regulation when it hurts others.
b fagan (chicago)
@b fagan - another benefit of the accelerating shift to EVs and to renewable power generation? Airborne nitrogen pollution will also drop, further reducing another source of excess nutrients that lead to deadly algal blooms in lakes, streams and offshore. Scroll down at the following link to the chart showing the contributions by various sources of excess nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico - the bulk of it is from various agricultural sources, 7% each is from urban runoff and wastewater treatment, but 26% is from atmospheric sources. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/nitrogen-and-water Decarbonizing our energy systems is an opportunity for cleaner air and water that will benefit everyone. Addressing agricultural and other sources of pollutants effectively means that we can continue to reduce air and water pollution that hurts health, nature and people's jobs.
Phil (Connecticut)
The remarkable and wilder Housatonic "Hoos-uh-tonic" River is "parallel" to the Hudson River, flowing from tributaries in Vermont through Western Massachusetts and transitions from white water to a series of bucolic reservoirs, hydroelectric dam and Yale Rowers training sites in Connecticut to the L.I. Sound. Like the Hudson, it is a victim of General Electric pcbs having been dumped in Pittsfield, MA with no real plan in place that would make fish edible again (as a figure of merit). Connecticut has a major eagle breeding area in a secluded portion (Shepaug Dam) along the river. Truly a remarkable resource, having personally witnessed mother bobcat returning with her kittens after their first visit to the largest river reservoir "Lake Lillinonah". https://hvatoday.org/wildlife/
DonVitoC. (NY)
I can't imagine a political climate, now or deep into the future, long past my time here, that will produce anything like the Clean Water Act. This piece, to me, is more of a "goodbye to all that" than anything else. (An aside....could the NYT please not mention the Hudson Valley or any of the towns in it unless some major news issue happens there? And please, no photos. As a life-long Hudson Valley resident, the place is lousy with city-folk and their all-cash search for "authenticity," and it's rendering the place unlivable and unaffordable to the middling and working classes there. Please have mercy.)
MTe (OTaw)
@DonVitoC. Sounds beautiful; planning my trip as we speak.
DonVitoC. (NY)
@MTe hahaha
pines (ithaca)
I seem to remember that it was Ronald Regan who opened the “neglected” wet lands to good use: real estate speculation and over development.
lars (vt)
This can't be true. Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It was probably corporate power in the marketplace that made America’s fresh waters fishable and swimmable.
Kathy White (Las Vegas)
The Republicans want to get rid of the Clean Water Act and anything else that Democrats are adhered to. VOTE!!!!
TeeVla (Tacoma)
The US Supreme Court once declared that a whale is a fish. History will repeat to the detriment of everyone, including the Sackett’s.
Mike Holloway (Texas)
It's work is far from protected. MAGA has pledged to gut the Clean Water Act, like they've pledged to gut everything they can excite their base with by calling it "woke". Look at the death rates from covid in red vs blue states. They don't care what harm their reality denial does.
Ginger (Lakewood, CO)
Yes! And this article should be 'above the fold' and the headline for the paper today and every day.
Susan (DC)
Excellent article. "The bigger piece of unfinished business is realizing the goals of the act itself. That, in turn, will require stricter enforcement of existing laws by the E.P.A., including far more robust efforts to control runoff from factory farms. It will require stronger federal oversight of state agencies tasked with carrying out the law.." And a large number of citizens who will demand responsible business practices to be the standard.
Old Soldier (USA)
No one should be surprised to learn Justice Scalia, a conservative, a self-proclaimed person of religious values took the side of those that would defile the earth, harm the creatures of water, land and air, and make wide areas of the only planet humans inhabit hazardous to humans. I am fairly certain the conservative Roberts court will not miss the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to personal freedom in Sackett v. E.P.A., especially when doing so advances the interests of corporations and the wealthy. Our sacrosanct Constitution was designed to protect the property and political power of the 10%. Our nation’s political system is driven by court protected legalized bribery and voter suppression. The sad truth is we live in a land where laws are crafted to support a political economy that preys on the many to grow the wealth and power of the few. The tragedy of chemicals in the water of Flint MI was not accident, nor was it an anomaly, it is just one example in a long history of conservative actions in the home of the naive and the land of the deceived, were the common good is often compromised to advance the interests of the few. After retiring from the military I have come to understand my service did not help protect the welfare and rights of the many, but the greed and power of the few.
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
scalia's opinion shows that he does not understand water. during my years building foundations and putting garages and basements under houses in San Francisco below twin peaks I encountered many of these filled in seasonal creeks and former wetlands. guess what? they do not go away because you fill them. they come back in the rainy winter mostly underground but popping above the surface when given half a chance. now, instead of just filling theses creeks and wetlands underground pipes must be installed to control the flow. this demonstrates the physical connection between wetlands and surface water. I would bet that a good geotechnical engineer will force the sacketts to do the same to avoid future subsidence and settling of their new home.
d.e.w. (Wisconsin)
Unfortunately, agriculture was exempted from the act. That poses the biggest threat to our ground and surface water today.
teeceenyc (NYC)
I only have personal experience of the issues as they relate to the Hudson and have been involved with various groups over the years including resisting cement plants releasing PM2.5. For me the whole GE fiasco is the perfect primer on what is at stake here for us around the world in general. You have a crystal clear example of how lack of regulation and lack of stewardship destroyed a vital resource for the people that continues to this day. Corporate expedience wrecked our future. What price do you attach to the idea that you can't eat the fish because of what one company did? Imagine how different things would be if they had never polluted the river. You can't eat the Fall leaves. To me this is a small version of what industry is doing to the planet in general. People are starving because big business fouls the nest. Corporations must be tamed. If it were up to me I would have taken GE to the mat and spent every dime of their corporate value to fix or attempt to fix what they did.
Dennis (Denver)
@teeceenyc Hard to know what you are ranting about but if we assume that it is the GE PCB discharge into the Hudson., when GE did that it was legal. The correct solution was to stop the discharge. The biggest impact has being to stop "digging the hole" as far a waste disposal etc. What was SOP 50 years ago was the equivalent of when blood letting was a standard medical practice. A interesting comparison is car safety. Look at a 60's car and compare it to a car today and that old car is a death trap. My dad had to pay extra to get seat belts in the family station wagon in 1963 ! I have worked closely to the environmental side of many major projects in the North east and the impact in the last 40 years is amazing. Environmental quality is so much better today as is infrastructure. It is a success story. The real issue is going forward. All the low hanging fruit had being picked. If you have ever worked with the EPA you will know what a dysfunctional organization they are. You want 5 cents of construction done for a dollar, their your man. The Gowanus canal is a case in point. That project should have being done and dusted by now but 14 years after the EPA took over it is maybe 1/3 done. There was a very good reason Bloomberg fought like crazy to keep the EPA away from the project.
teeceenyc (NYC)
@Dennis Hello Dennis. Yes. That is what I am ranting about. I am not sure a car analogy works because the safety issues evolved with the car tech. River pollution was as the article points out a known problem by the time GE started dumping. GE is in the science game after all. They were not ignorant. But because it was not 'illegal' per your perspective - that made it okay. In this country there are a lot of things that were legal once that we know from an ethical standpoint are abominations. Legality has been used all too effectively to cover over moral lapses. Willfully so. And half the time we can not be sure the 'legality' was not itself bought and paid for.
T.H (Bay Area)
During the pandemic, I (and many others) started swimming regularly in San Francisco Bay. A few decades ago, that would have been a foolhardy act, due to pollution. Now, thanks to the Clean Water Act, we can safely enjoy this enormous resource in our backyard, along with the seals, porpoises, sharks, rays, sturgeon, ospreys, pelicans and countless other birds. Most days, you can see a wide array of boaters, windsurfers, swimmers, fishermen and birdwatchers enjoying our glorious bay. This is as it should be. Although the epic algae bloom we experienced this summer reminds us that there is still work to be done.
Fox (RI)
Narragansett Bay, all the way to Providence, is swimmable and fishable most of time, thanks to this law and citizen activists who saw that it was enforced.
Carol (Wilton, CT)
Not mentioned yet: former VP Cheney, with his ties to the oil industry, managed to exempt water used in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") from the Clean Water Act. Horizontal fracturing, which makes natural gas extraction from shale economical, involves the injection of thousands of gallons of water laced with -- wait for it-- undisclosed chemicals into the ground. That water must then be removed and safely stored. The hype about "clean" natural gas conveniently omits this fact. We will rue the day. John Fetterman's debate answer supporting fracking was a disappointment, given the harm that PA's natural gas boom has done to the state's wells and waterways. NY has so far been spared thanks to Gov. Cuomo's fracking ban. That ban would likely be lifted if the Republican candidate for governor prevails over the incumbent Hochul.
Observer (Washington State)
People like the Sacketts, and their prime supporter, the PLF have that mentality - all too common - that too much regulation is bad, they should be above the law, when convenient. The great appeal of the US West has always been in the abundant beauty and the relatively open spaces. Yet, the same people attracted to that beauty would acquire it, privatize it, and do whatever they please. Any passer through can see the remarkable diminishment that has occurred in recent decades. Those with a conscience, support doing the right things for the environment, while the amoral will continue to fight good science and policy until the day in the not too far off future where nothing will matter. Then, all will be lost; and all will finally be equal. When will Americans realize the real battle is our divisiveness?
SLB (vt)
We live in a "what's in it for me" country. So if environmentalists can point that out--- swimmable and fishable waters, etc., maybe they can get more of the public's support. Sadly, the vague "better for the planet" argument is a loser here.
Andy (Milwaukee)
The sham Supreme Court now coming for the laws I hold dearest. Laws that have helped transform my urban Milwaukee waterways and the like.
JM (California)
Clean water should be seen as a constitutional right protected by the Ninth amendment.
Dorothy Wiese (San Antonio)
@JM Voting isn’t seen as a Constitutional right by most on the “right”. Please vote In what will probably be our last election.
Steve B. (Minneapolis)
The notion that a non-scientist lay person—Antonin Scalia—knows enough to declare how water law should be interpreted, is idiotic. This dispute is far broader than the Clean Water Act. It goes to the right’s long term project of ending deference to professional decision-making in many areas of law, which severely hampers rational regulation. This example is just especially egregious, and obvious: The average person probably thinks that waters are connected when you can see them, but anyone with modest environmental education knows that what matters is hydrological connection. The Supreme Court is poised to adopt the alleged common sense (but factually ignorant) view of this matter, fully understanding that it slashes meaningful regulation of wetlands across the land. It’s heartbreaking, and a giant step back in time.
KaneSugar (Mdl Georgia)
@Steve B. Thanks for writing this as it was exactly what I was thinking. All water is connected...it is earths own version of our blood circulatory system.
Question Everything (Highland NY)
The Tragedy of the Commons evidences that deregulation temporarily benefits a few at long-term cost everyone. My grad school professors used that science problem and game theory while teaching cost-benefit outcomes intrinsic to environmental policy. The EPA was created because our environment was severely damaged by a lack of environmental oversight and sensible regulation. As the author points out, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire repeatedly. Everyone could see that our air, water and soil resources were being polluted and our health was endangered. Five decades of environmental regulation improved our ecosystems and human health in visible and measurable degrees using cost-effective means acceptable to competitive markets. Markets adjust to regulation but corporations tend toward profit-taking regardless of social cost in free markets devoid of regulation or oversight. The six conservative SCOTUS ideologues demonstrated they'll ignore established case law with their flawed Dobbs decision. If they contravene case law supporting the EPA's mission statement, our environment and human health will be needlessly put at risk.
Bge (Boston)
This case is just the tip of the iceberg. They're attempting to strip the power of federal agencies to regulate.
Karen (Cape Cod)
The Clean Water Act has to an incredible turnaround of some of this country’s waterways but has long needed better enforcement. The Clean Waters Act works best in states that also have strict environmental laws, like Massachusetts, which this month marked the 50th anniversary of the Wetlands Protection Act, which gave responsibility to administer the act to local conservation commissions, and towns were also allowed to create local wetlands bylaws and the commissions promulgate their own regulations. If the Supreme Court does what many of us expect and gut the Act, Massachusetts has its own tools. It is the waters of the states that done have strict environmental laws of their own that will suffer the largest burden of such a Supreme Court decision. Massachusetts law, both state and local, speaks to the public values inherent in these wetlands and in controlling what is allowed to happen where. What is the public value in allowing pollution to effect drinking water? Or the waters that provide habitat to fish and wildlife, and from a human-centered view, support our food chain? And support our recreational needs? The Clean Wa
Tom Fitzgibbon (Brooklyn)
The rights of the many should outweigh the rights of the few.
John Walker (Pawtucket)
@Tom Fitzgibbon There are many human beings who will do what they will to the land.
Mark (Ohio)
We need a Clean Atmosphere Act.
Marty (Milwaukee)
I can't remember who said it, but he gave us a new, improved, Golden Rule: "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." Another thing to remember is that wind and water do not recognize state or national boundaries. This is a global problem and requires international cooperation
N. Smith (New York City)
Don't say this too loud otherwise it might give Republicans champing at the bit the idea the of unleashing industrial waste back into our clean waters for a profit again. And you know it's true. Right now, the fate of our wildernesses (or, what's left of them) is also dangling on the same knife's edge. The protection of our flora and fauna is as sacred as that of our wildlife. And that includes protecting our climate. Please keep the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts alive. The planet will thank you for it.
Gina B (North Carolina)
And when they sell the house will they advertize it as amid wetland?
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
"But Mr. Nixon, (R), actually vetoed the clean water bill when it came to his desk. Too costly, he said." - There's the epitaph for Homo Ignoramus. "That… will require stricter enforcement of existing laws by the E.P.A…" - (R)egressives, of course, remain dedicated to shrinking gov't small enough to drown in the bathtub (of filthy water, apparently) and getting rid of those "profit-killing" environmental regulations. The (D)s ain't no great shakes, but they're our only hope in keeping Our Only Home livable for us. Vote (D) like your life (and the lives of your Precious Progeny) depends on it.
Susan (Paris)
This article is one more reminder that the forced-birth Republicans and the religious zealots on the Supreme Court care no more about the state of the environment that they will force mothers to bring children into than they do about the poverty and lost economic opportunities they are condemning them to.
Glassyeyed (Indiana)
Good luck with the current corrupt SCOTUS. If it doesn't benefit rich businessmen or Christian theocrats, it's toast.
Sheila Bolton (Chicago, Illinois)
And on and on the current incarnation of SCOTUS sets what’s left of our nation literally on fire! For further confirmation look no further then yesterday’s NYT article covering Alito’s latest (smug and self serving) defense (misdirection and double speak) to (of course) the Heritage Society regarding his (and their ?) ruling for Citizens United. It upended the basic understanding of the English Language not to mention the Constitution, but yeah sure Alito. Oh and his contention that the leaked draft of Roe v Wade’s reversal of 50 years of precedent, put lives at danger? That’s the only point that he and I will ever agree. It did indeed endanger lives as did the actual ruling itself. The 65 million US women of child bearing age. The world sees the US ever more clearly, as the existential threat we are to humanity’s survival. Sick of sucking our exhaust, and our garbage fouling the oceans. Soon we will replace Russia as (most of) the world’s pariah, except ours will be all encompassing. This btw is a feature, not a bug. It won’t be long before the smash and grab of the Oligarch funded GOP reduces the Republic to complete rubble. We passed the tipping point some time ago…
louis v. lombardo (Bethesda, MD)
Thanks for this important article. A little more history is at https://www.legalreader.com/50-years-of-legal-climate-change/
E Truong (Tampa, FL)
If we are dependent on this Supreme Court to protect our wetlands, we are doomed. Unpack the court!
Dorothy Wiese (San Antonio)
The environmental law made of American Waterers Swimmable and Fishable will be eliminated soon. Along with the actual water. Courtesy of the GOP and Americans who don’t vote.
Tim Barrus (Blue Ridge Mountains)
Hard-hitting piece. I am glad it was available to read. Good writing. Not thick with policy jargon. EPA reports. Incomprehensible. But this spoke to me and makes sense. Some places are better than they used to be. I ride around North America on my dirt bike. I don't have a big cushy car that separates me from the wild of the outside world. It's in my face. I can breathe in Lake Michigan. The tampon plastics flushed down toilets in Chicago has made walking on the beaches of Lake Michigan impossible because the mountains of plastic have turned the lake and beaches into a sewer. We are talking mountains of toxic plastic. What we have done is move the mess around so we can pretend we did something. Well, you did do something turning everything you touch into a steaming decrepitude of death and stink. You have flushed it away. Species have vanished. You as a culture are the meanest form of greed in the universe. Buy. Buy. Buy. More. More. More. Feed the rich. It's not the aristocracy that has made Lake Michigan a toilet filled with plastic tampon tubes. It's us. There is not a single salmon left in the Great Lakes. Gone. You can't recreate them. It's over. Our society has a lot of unmitigated nerve lecturing anyone. You cut America off at the knees. I can smell the Mississippi. I can smell you, America. Graveyard. You are beneath contempt. I am not allowed to say that, I am muzzled. I am not civil. The New York Times will not allow anger. Only comment numbness. Go Home. I said it.
Tim (Sometimes Earth)
Surely at the next chance it gets, the extremist-Supremes will gut the Clean Water and Air Acts, and we'll head towards a future of swimming in ponds of Round-Up.
Look Ahead (WA)
The greatest water quality and conservation impacts come from state, local and tribal collaboration with support from Federal agencies like EPA and Interior, while USDA and Defense have been more harmful than helpful. The Puget Sound region, encompassing the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett-Bellevue metro area and surrounding counties, is home to 5.5 million, more than 70% of WA State and growing. The changes here since the 1950s have been profound, cleaning up the lakes, rivers, streams and the Sound by treating sewage, reducing both industrial and non-point pollution like storm and development runoff, protecting surface and aquifer water resources, restoring salmon and eelgrass habitat that supports aquatic diversity. Much remains to be done, especially as climate change introduces new challenges. In Yakima, over the mountains, similar local collaboration has conserved vital water resources and improved salmon spawning. In our national political climate, Federal agencies and courts are less reliable partners, as the environmental depredations of the Trump Administration exceeded even those of the Reagan era. EPA is an important partner but local action is far more important, especially with our current Supreme Court.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
I'm 70 and I remember what it was like before this law was passed*. And I also remember watching the rivers get better, slowly but surely. I remember the Clear Air act too. This is why I don't have the despair that others have about the environment. I remember what it was one like. And that it got better because people worked together to save it. *its worth pointing out that this national law also caused states and towns to clean up their acts.
MR (Chicago)
@sjs Both acts had bipartisan support and were signed by Richard Nixon - a Republican president.
John Sencabaugh (USA)
Actually the article points out that Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, and it subsequently passed with veto-proof majority in congress to override Nixon’s veto.
Tim (Sometimes Earth)
@MR Which would never happen today.
Christopher (Richmond, VA)
Significant to an understanding of wetland preservation is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's and EPA's definition of "navigable waters", which includes wetlands, as well as intermittant streams, creeks, streamlettes, most of which you cannot take a boat of any kind down. Most rivers, ponds, lakes, and their tributaries are fed in part by wetlands, and much of that "feed" is below the surface. Wetlands are source areas for our waterways, consequently they need to be protected, both hydrologically and with regard to water quality (contaminants). If a homeowner/developer/industry fills in or builds on top of a wetland, in addition to cutting off the water source, what are they going to do about their wastewater, where is it going to go? It will follow the same hydrologic path the wetland did and discharge to the adjacent water body. This what the EPA/Corps permit process is designed to address. If everyone is allowed to do this, willy-nilly, which is what did and will happen, the water body can become polluted, and/or potentially dry up. The Sacketts apparently purchased the parcel of land 17 years ago (probably at discount because of the wetlands), and that gave them plenty of time, both before and after the purchase, to do their homework (due diligence) and initiate the permitting process, or not purchase the land to begin with, rather than wait 17 years and then be in a hurry. - Retired water resources engineer/regulator
Todd (Arizona)
When I was a child, growing up in the late '60s and '70s, there was an imperative that things needed to change. My public school emphasized environmentalism. We would go and work on environmental projects near our school. It seemed like everything was really moving in a positive direction. When I became an adult, Reagan was elected, and everything changed. Rather than bi-partisan agreement that clean air and water were a positive thing, the Republicans began to be anti-environment. Here we are, so many years later, the planet in peril, and we just can't figure out what we knew fifty years ago.
T.George (New Hampshire)
This law has been one of our most important tools for protecting our environment and thus, our citizens (Isn't that what a government is supposed to do?) Unfortunately, its future is likely to be determined by by persons with no understanding of watershed hydrology, Scalia's "surface connections only" theorizing is truly frightening to those with even the most basic understanding of watershed management.
Pedter Goossens (Panama)
If the republicans win the mid-terms, at least for the House, but maybe also for the Senate, this law might very well be in their visor. This to be ready for 2024 so that the first act of either Trump or DeSantis can (and will be) the cancellation of this law. All supported by the Supreme Court! A very troublesome possibility!
R.C. Repetto (Amherst, MA)
This article illustrates the half-hearted commitment of federal and state governments to environmental protection. Fifty years after passage of the Clean Water Act half of the nation's waters are neither fishable nor swimmable. Similarly, a third of America's population still breathes air that poses health risks, fifty years after passage of the Clean Air Act. Thousands of chemicals in daily use have never been tested for toxicity. Greenhouse gas emissions have still not fallen significantly, despite forty years of scientific warnings. Through Democratic and Republican administrations, business interests have succeeded in sabotaging citizen's overwhelming support for a clean and safe environment. Shameful.
Morgan (Medford NY)
What determines wetlands are the plants growing on it not the presence of surface water
Patrick Weidinger (Lancaster PA)
Proof again that regulation and enforcement do not "kill jobs", but lack of regulations and enforcement kill the environment, and people.
me (world)
Thank Nixon! For clean water, clean air, opening to China and Title IX! Too bad Watergate happened; otherwise, a fairly good president.
Fred (Snowmass Village)
@me Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act. A bipartisan congress overrode his veto.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
@Fred Yes, that was informative. I had always heard that he signed the Bill. Didn't know he vetoed it and Congress overrode him.
Morgan (Medford NY)
@me Nixon refused to sign the bill , a bipartisan group overrode him, still one of the most corrupt presidents and vice president Agnew resigned for taking huge bribes
ben (IL)
this law is also part of the rural/urban divide that fuels many political fights, and possibly violence given the past way of life vs morals civil war and this generations jan 6 to small town people, these laws often say you cannot have a a house, cannot rebuild an old one if its close to water, cannot upgrade systems in a lot of cases, and added on to that, they often see new climate laws as demanding their old systems cannot run anymore, meaning they are forced to give up their lives and attempt to move to a setting were they are disadvantaged this has to be weighed along with the environmental impact, or... the "has" remains as long as these people have the power to vote and defend themselves, so sure, if the bias for rural voters is removed from congress and these people lose their ar-15's, you can force things on them, but trying that causes jan 6 like events to be justified outright blocking the building of a house in this case is the wrong thing to do unless there is no reasonable way it can be built with a manageable impact, environmentalists should understand the desire of the land owner, the land owner should be aware of their impact, and regulations should take more the one side into account and have a smart solution, not a blunt ban the project vs allow it to go on without any restrictions ... but i know that is asking for a level of compromise that is a pure fantasy, at least for the next few years
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
Protecting the environment always inconveniences someone. Just ask General Electric. "Compromise" inevitably benefits someone disproportionately, at the expense of those with whom they share the environment. They have alternatives. They should use them, and learn to get along with the rest of us, and with the environment, upon which we all depend.
Glassyeyed (Indiana)
@ben There should be limits on where houses can be built, especially if the area floods or is otherwise unsuitable for supporting structures. Why should the government continue to subsidize homeowners in vulnerable areas when they take taxpayer money to rebuild over and over again?
From elsewhere (Bend, OR)
Uh…there are things called wetland permits. They are issued by state agencies and the federal government. The permits allow you to fill wetlands (and build your house). You have to meet certain standards and mitigate your damage to wetlands. It is a very common practice. And it is not as if these builders didn’t have a chance to investigate their property before purchase.
laurence (bklyn)
A different version of this essay could have put more energy into celebrating what we have accomplished. "We" as in "We, the people...". It might have skipped the divisive polemics and been more straight forward about the issues. It could have left some room for a non-partisan conclusion, and allowed the readers to draw their own conclusions. Because if our waterways have to depend on the Democratic party (a beached whale, an old Chevy up on blocks) the future doesn't look too good. The fifty year old Clean Water and Clean Air Acts are the last truly great thing that our Congress did. If we can't move forward, can't even protect them, maybe it's time to admit that we're just a collection of disconnected States and defend our own waters. I, for one, am more concerned with the Hudson, the NY Bight, LI Sound and Nantucket Sound than I am with some bog in Idaho. Why shouldn't NY, NJ, Conn. and Delaware get together to protect our own waterways?
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
@laurence They do. There are several organization - official, semi-official, and non-profit. For example; NEIWPCC ("not-for-profit interstate agency that serves and assists our states developing resources that foster progress on water and wastewater issues and representing the region in matters of federal policy" i.e a lobby). And there is clf (Conservation Law Foundation) which provides legal services in environmental law for conservative groups. And there is a special group for Long Island Sound (forget the name). And there New England Water Science Center. And all the states that have the Connecticut River flow through them work together to keep it clean. There is a lot going on.
Eric A (Pucon, Chile)
@laurence It's quite a stretch to characterize a very brief history of the creation and implementation our two most important pieces of environmental legislation as "divisive polemics". The political reality of environmental legislation and implementation thereof has been almost exclusively defined by Republican efforts to weaken or overturn the protections embodied in both Acts. I was also struck by your opening entreaty to focus on the "we" and your closing remark that you are, "more concerned with the Hudson, the NY Bight, LI Sound and Nantucket Sound than I am with some bog in Idaho." Air and water don't have neat boundaries and if by "we" you mean all Americans, dismissing the concerns of others about their water resources doesn't seem like a good place to start.
laurence (bklyn)
@Eric A, That the issue has been "...defined by Republican efforts..." is the fault of that beached whale I mentioned. The Dems (my party) have done nothing to expand the original law, instead leaving it to the courts. Now we're out of luck. And we the people of NY, NJ, Conn., and R.I. had better protect our waters before the people of Idaho trash them. Don't you think?
Ski bum (Colorado)
Did you catch that? Nixon, a common criminal nominated by republicans, vetoed the Clean Water Act as too expensive. Imagine what the next Republican president will do when climate change legislation is passed and sent to him/her for signing.
Howard Eddy (Quebec)
Conservative lawyers are notorious for requiring strict interpretation of all things that might make the power of individuals to damage their neighbors or the public more difficult, and the loosest possible interpretation of any rule that allows such damage. This they call the protection of liberty.
noplanetb (Duesseldorf, Germany)
Keeping water fresh and clean, safe for swimming and fishing, should appeal to all sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives are those who hunt and fish. Conservatives live in rural areas, and are way more likely to swim in these waters, to need it for their farms, their livelihoods. Conservatives are often very religious, going to church, reading the bible, they might be evangelist, creationist, sometimes devout Catholics like Amy Coney Barrett - so they should see it as their foremost duty to protect God's creation, earth, nature and animals alike. To protect these waters and wetlands, the Creation, their fish and livelihoods should be a no-brainer for all Americans, no matter what they believe or who they vote for.
James Tarhalla (California)
@noplanetb Yes, it should be a no-brainer but it isn't. I remember life before the Clean Water Act became law. Lake Erie was too polluted to safely enter near any industrial area. The U.S. Steel plant in Lorain, Ohio dumped its waste into the Black River where it combined with untreated sewage from upstream municipalities then on into the lake. In California today, many areas in the San Joaquin Valley, and other areas, lack safe drinking water due to pollution and overdrafting of the aquifers. What should be a "no-brainer" is more like no brains at all.
SChap (Missouri)
Noplaneth, Not sure how well everyone understands the religious right here in the US. Their view is to see how much of the earths natural resources they can exploit. After all, God gave them dominion over the earth and all of its creatures (especially non believers)!
50 years a Registered Nurse (Madison, Wi)
Article mentions factory farm animal confinement runoff, but that is just a the tip of the iceberg. The free dump of chemicals, think Monsanto, has devastated farmland and our rivers, lakes and streams worldwide. No more naturally healthy soil capable of growing food without chemicals. No more swimmable lakes and rivers. No more clean water. So distorted is our current perspective that we now call this type of farming ‘conventional farming’. It is no such thing. It is ‘post WW II chemical and factory farming’. Our grandparents grew food organically. We can do it again. The contemporary organic growing community has developed successful strategies to do just that. Which farmers receive government subsidies? It’s not organic farmers. Humans destroy their own home, our planet. Tragic to say the least.
Kim (New England)
@50 years a Registered Nurse How much of the farming in the midwest is actually for food? Or food that we in this country eat?
50 years a Registered Nurse (Madison, Wi)
@Kim I Don’t know the percentage. WI is not a flat monoculture state such as Iowa or Kansas. My husband and I were organic vegetable growers with direct sales in the Madison Farmer’s Market. Our farm was in the hills of non-glaciated SW Wi. We were surrounded by dairy farms. CAFOs have been moving in unfortunately following zoning changes under republican legislative control. Wetlands and wildlife at risk. Yep, we only grew food to feed people.
Karl (Thompson)
This is how the WSJ's editorial page describes the issue in their Sept. 30th edition: "Their land contains no body of water, and the law authorizes EPA to regulate only “navigable waters” in interstate commerce. EPA nonetheless ordered construction work halted and threatened huge penalties if the Sacketts didn’t obtain a federal permit, which typically requires more than two years and $250,000 in consulting costs." "EPA’s reasoning went like this: The Sacketts’ lot was connected to a wetland though it was separated by a 30-foot paved road, and that wetland was connected to a man-made ditch that was connected to a non-navigable creek that was connected to Priest Lake, which was navigable." I understand this case is about establishing authority. But we need to be practical. Nowhere have I read that the Sacketts are being accused of wanting to do something that would damage the environment. An important consideration! Further, the E.P.A., I assume, probably does not have anywhere near the resources (staff) required to monitor all such construction activities as described here.
Oscillation overthruster1859 (USA)
@Karl Nice addition, Karl. It helps to show the complexity of the issue, and the particular perspectives that different groups of voters are being presented with.
Jim (Merion, PA)
Lots of us hated Nixon, but he accomplished some good stuff. Compared to some presidents since, his policy work looks pretty good.
Dan (Maryland)
@Jim Nixon vetoed the law that was overridden by bipartisan effort. How is that "his policy work"? Thank you for having written your Senators & Representatives to support the EPA's enforcement actions.
Dan Murphy (MA)
Well, kind of. "But Mr. Nixon actually vetoed the clean water bill when it came to his desk. Too costly, he said. A bipartisan Congress quickly overrode him, and for the first time the country had in place a law that essentially said to industry and to cities..." A case of actions speaking louder than words?
Jim (Merion, PA)
@Jim Nixon's EPA Administrator (the first), William Ruckelshaus: "Nixon would propose strong environmental legislation, Ruckelshaus says, then Congress would change it, and the President would be faced with a choice between signing something he didn't like and vetoing his own bill. Mostly, he signed." August 4, 2011. Ruckelshaus was not a blanket Nixon defender, knew Nixon's defects and resigned as part of the Saturday night massacre.
Old Soldier (USA)
Justice Scalia, a conservative, a self-proclaimed person of religious values taking the side of those that would defile the earth, harm the creatures of land and air, make wide areas of the only planet humans inhabit hazardous to man and beast, so that corporations and the wealthy can do as they please with the blessing of an unaccountable court, a political system driven by legalized bribery, a Constitution designed to protect the property and political power of the 10%; wow what nation of freedom and justice for allows that? So it goes in the land of the naive and the home of the deceived.
Regina McIlvain (Austin, TX)
The positive environmental laws of the 1970s were meant to be a starting point, for progress, research and development for new, clean industry and evolving protection of precious resources. Ideally they also ushered in a new era of economic growth, areas of scientific study, unlimited avenues for sustainable invention. All that was stopped, stagnated and slowly reversed beginning in the early 1980s. The regression in this country alone since that time is staggering and largely unnoticed. I attended a Bernie Sanders brainstorming session on a university campus during the last election cycle. Old enough to be a parent to the students who were trying to find ways of making the senator's extremely progressive platform palatable, I was able to remember, and tell them, that these were not extreme goals. Free college, clean environmental protections, womens' autonomy over their own bodies: these were rights that had existed 50 years ago. Bernie Sanders hearkened back to a period when US laws were passed for the benefit of the people and the future of this country and the world. It is a truly conservative stance in the best understanding of the word. Sign me up, again.
Muddlerminnow (Chicago)
Water belongs to all of us. This battle is not just about stewarding water quality, but protecting our access to it too. We need Federal legislation to unequivocally make rivers, river bottoms, and riverbanks part of the public domain, like our national parks--owned, used,and shared by all.
E Pluribus (CT)
The Clean Water Act achieved significant results in restoring the health of the country’s waters. But after 50 years it’s due for a legislative reboot to strengthen, not weaken it. The “navigable” waterways limitation on its scope opens the door to court challenges like the one now before the Supreme Court. What does a continual navigable water surface have to do with how and where water (and what it contains) cycles through ecosystems, or with protecting the health of those who rely on the water (which is a core purpose of the CWA)? Environmental litigation outcomes should at least be based on how the environment actually works as a system, and not on legal wordplay over an arbitrary if not irrelevant concept.
Kim (New England)
I remember when this seemed unsurmountable.There's nothing like a healthy body of water. It's a source of life, it's required for life.
Max (Noepe)
All waters are connected. Anyone telling this differently has not accepted reality.
John Virgone (Pennsylvania)
@Max A form of “ice nine?”
Robert Danley (NJ)
As a child, I vividly remember the stench and dead fish lining the banks of the Delaware River during the summer. Many decades later, I regularly kayak in those same waters and its tributaries. The change is amazing, there are otters in the river, beavers in the creeks and the water is clear and full of fish. There is a local project to restore mussel beds to help filter the water. Sadly, all is not well, plastic bottles and bags are everywhere and lawn chemicals entering the watershed are contributing to algae blooms and heavy growths of aquatic plants. Still work to do but the change is amazing. Government can do many good things and ,in this case, only government action could have worked.
JR (Boston)
Your article fails to mention that the congress clearly indicated in the body of the Clean Water Act that it only cover Navigable Waterways. The EPA has stretched to the point where it’s now used to cover power washers and pools. Maybe that’s the right thing to do but it’s not the intention of congress
Kim (New England)
The intention was to clean up navigable waterways. That means if we have pollution flowing into the navigable waterways, they won't be clean. It's all connected.
Richard (New Jersey)
@JR You are entitled to your opinion but not your facts. Read the Act... it says nothing about power washers and swimming pools. Do not sensationalize the issue with ridiculous, false and misleading lies.
Joseph Gardner (Connecticut)
@JR , And where, exactly, did you think your heavily-chlorinated pool water, and the detergent-and-filth infused waste water from your power washer go when you are done using all of it? Eventually into "Navigable Waterways." And protecting those waterways from such contamination IS the intention.
Lynn (Northeast Ohio)
As a Clevelander, I'd be remiss to not bring up that the Clean Water Act is a direct result of the hard, persistent journalism of Betty Klaric. Klaric reported for the Cleveland Press, and had a long running feature regarding the water quality of the Cuyahoga River. Everyone can make fun of our river that USED to burn, but it was the Cuyahoga and Betty Klaric that brought the problems of water pollution to the dinner tables of America. You can read more about Betty Klaric at Cleveland Memory http://clevelandmemory.org/klaric/index.html
L (Cambridge MA)
@Lynn A mention of Betty Klaric is wonderful - and that story should also include the role of Mayor Carl Stokes of Detroit who raised awareness of the issues on the Cuyahoga River with tours of the pollution and efforts to fund improvements. Stokes was working on 'Environmental Justice' before the term existed.
Restore Human Sanity (Manhattan)
If republicans gain control of congress that will insure the slow destruction of our working class. The rich thinking they can buy isolated environmental protection for themselves will eventually result in abject self destruction.
OneView (Boston)
As in a Greek tragedy, the very power of these acts to limit development are the flaw that may weaken them. There is a vast difference between a law that cures a burning river and a law that prevents a likely innocuous private home construction. These are different problems of magnitude and substance and the court wants to find a way to distinguish them. The environmental movements willingness to weaponize the act well beyond the intent of Congress and the needs of the environment so that it is the go-to tool for NIMBYs is likely to cause the courts to want to lessen its reach. Would we have reached the goal of “clean water” by 1983 had the EPA not continuously moved the goalposts? What was considered swimmable and fish-able in 1970 is much different from what we would tolerate today.
TRKapner (Ashburn)
Around the same time that the mighty Cuyahoga was catching fire with some regularity, city skies were a mess. In Pittsburgh, cars often had to turn on their lights in the early afternoon due to the heavy smog. Businessmen often had to bring a change of shirt because of the soot that would collect simply by walking down the street. It's vitally important to remember how bad things were so that we don't pretend that these environmental protection laws have not accomplished anything or are not absolutely necessary.
Frank Purdy (Rome, GA)
@TRKapner It was thew same in Birmingham. When I was a teenager in the late 60's/early 70's, we lived on a lake about 30 miles from Birmingham. In the summer, the haze was so bad the other side of the lake wasn't visible, but it was easily visible in the winter, It was probably less than two miles.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
@TRKapner I remember canceling trips to NYC in the 1970's because the air was too polluted that day/smog too heavy to be walking around outside.
Avery-‐------------●●● (Jacksonville)
Where is the argument presented for significant expansion of federal power here? Going from 'navigable waters' to all wetlands is a significant overreach if there ever was one.
Concerned Reader (Germany)
Wetlands irrefutably impact water quality of navigable waters. If navigable waterways are protected, then wetlands must be too.
Richard (New Jersey)
@Avery-‐------------●●● Simply, you are wrong. The law is making the argument that you cannot expect to have a clean river if the small streams and wetlands that feed it are not clean. Makes sense, right?
PJM (La Grande, OR)
@Avery-‐------------●●● The intent of the CWA is clear, and the hydrological link between wetlands and rivers is also clear. Or rather, as that raging liberal Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times."
Paul (Nelspruit, South Africa)
What a strange system. Clearly - logically - the correct approach is to interpret the law based on what the specialists say it means, and not based on what some jumped-up lawyer with zero expertise in the fields wishes it means. If the wording is ambiguous, it just means the wording should he tightened up a little. That's how specialist legislation works in the rest of the world.
Ann O. Dyne (Unglaciated Indiana)
Wetlands cannot be other than wetlands, whether it has a “significant nexus” or not. Since most wetlands have already been destroyed, and wetlands are absolutely needed for several natural values, let's protect those left. The corporation-prioritizing members of SCOTUS may rule otherwise.
Stephen (Ellijay Ga)
Science would clearly say that the Kennedy view of the law is the only one that makes sense. The law addresses non-point sources which clearly shows that pollution sources were considered. What is frustrating is why the law was not explicit about covered waters. It is amazing to me that 50 years after enacting the CWA we have a case in the court to decide what waters it covers. It is also important to recognize the Act allowed citizen suits to fight these battles for decades. The key to any law is enforcement as pointed out in this excellent summary.
TJ (Bronx)
Water is life. Water is not a resource that stays in one place. It travels through wetlands, rivers, lakes, aquifers, oceans, rain, and clouds. Any elementary school understanding of the water cycle makes this clear. Without the strictest protections on water, we are all doomed: humans, animals, plant life. Thank you for this important reminder. Only humans foul their own nest and then wonder why they become a disease ridden, depressed, angry, and violent species.
Cathy (Hopewell Junction N.Y.)
Privatize profit, socialize costs. That's the only form of socialism that conservatives accept or value. So they advocate for privatizing and utilizing wetlands, which filter aquifers, for building. The property rights of an individual outweigh the need to preserve clean water for the many. Our environmental laws are meant to manage the tragedy of the commons, in which each person optimizing his or her own goals and wealth, destroy the common or communal value of an asset. Like air, water, parkland. Our current system is reverting to the late 1800s, the early 1900s. If you have money you can do anything to make more. Robber barons and courts that court them. In the last century it meant rivers burnt. In this century it will be a bit more Armegeddon-like with fire, flood and drought. But good news! A relative few people can build a home on a swamp with a view.
SLB (vt)
@Cathy Privatize profits, socialize costs: Same goes for recycling--we all are paying for recycling costs because businesses refuse to invest in responsible packaging.
Steve's Weave - Green Classifieds (US)
@Cathy Exactly right. Clean Water quickly evaporates in the presence of Dirty Money.
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