clean water: We're not there yet
Philadelphia Daily News
DISTRACTED BY the Ira Einhorn
trial and the Beltway sniper drama around Washington,
most Philadelphians were unaware that Oct. 18 marked the
30th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act.
This landmark piece of environmental
and public-health legislation is arguably the cornerstone
of our nation's environmental policy.
Although we have made important
strides in water quality since the advent of the Clean
Water Act in 1972, we have fallen far short of its goals.
Approximately 39 percent of our rivers and 46 percent
of our lakes are still too polluted for safe fishing or
Pennsylvania has issued a
statewide fish consumption advisory due to contamination
caused by substances such as mercury, PCBs, chlordane,
dioxins, and DDT and its byproducts.
To make matters worse, my
group, PennEnvironment, recently reviewed EPA compliance
data and found that polluters in Pennsylvania continue
to violate their Clean Water Act permits for highly hazardous
chemicals. Over the most recent three-year period studied,
nearly 25 percent of the state's facilities exceeded their
permit limits at least once for chemicals known or suspected
to cause serious human health effects.
Often, these aren't just a
couple of drops above permitted level - facilities in
Pennsylvania violated their Clean Water Act permits by
an average of 249 percent. For example, facilities like
Cerro Metal Products in Bellefonte, and Reliant Energy
in East Wheatfield, had violations of 4,030 percent and
3,700 percent, respectively, in recent reporting periods.
On top of this, Pennsylvania
facilities repeatedly break the law. Ambler Borough exceeded
its permit during 21 reporting periods over the three
years studied in its dumping into the Wissahickon Creek.
And Zinc Corp. of America, located in Palmerton, had more
violations than any facility in the nation, with 99 violations
during the years in question.
Clearly, we have a long way
to go in order to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration
is turning a blind eye to these facts. Instead of working
to strengthen the Clean Water Act, the president's staff
is pushing ahead with proposals that will increase the
amount of highly hazardous chemicals going into our waterways.
This includes a proposal to slash the Environmental Protection
Agency's enforcement budget. The administration's efforts
would take more than 200 environmental cops off the beat,
making enforcement even more difficult.
Clean water is necessary for
a healthy environment and for protecting the public's
health - and it's just plain good politics. A recent poll
by the League of Conservation Voters showed that water
quality is the top environmental concern of Pennsylvanians,
with nearly 90 percent of respondents saying that they
support "tightening standards on the amount of pollution
allowed to be released into bodies of water that serve
as sources of drinking water."
Instead of kowtowing to polluters,
it would benefit the administration to listen to voters,
and for all of our politicians to ensure the strongest
clean water standards that will protect our waterways
for many generations to come.
David Masur is the director
of PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental organization