The Clean Water Act has been one of the pillars of environmental protection since its enactment in 1972. Its directive to "restore the physical, chemical and biological integrity of our nation's waters" has given the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers a clear mandate to restore water quality, prevent the destruction of wetlands, and ensure that our country's water resources are safe for drinking, recreation, and wildlife.
Despite its successes, the Clean Water Act has been under assault by industry forces, and confusing Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 have left more than half of all U.S. stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands vulnerable to pollution. These small streams, wetlands, headwaters, and tributaries provide the drinking water to over 117 million Americans, support businesses and recreation, and are crucial habitat for wildlife — yet our federal agencies are not able to safeguard them from toxic dumping.
LCV is committed to restoring the scope of the Clean Water Act to ensure that all of America’s waterways are protected. We have long supported legislation to accomplish this goal, but until such legislation passes, we are working with Obama administration to use its existing authority to protect our nation’s water resources.
On April 21, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers published their draft Clean Water Rule, which seeks to clarify which waterways are considered “waters of the United States” and deserve protection under the Clean Water Act. LCV is encouraging the agencies to quickly finalize these commonsense safeguards while also urging the agencies to make them even stronger by protecting certain classes of other waters, such as prairie potholes, that the science demonstrates are clearly connected to the health of downstream waters. LCV believes all Americans deserve access to water that is fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.
In an effort to mine coal in the cheapest way possible, mining companies in Appalachia have turned to mountaintop removal mining. These companies use massive amounts of dynamite to blow off the tops of mountains to unearth thin seams of coal. They then dump the leftover waste, full of toxic chemicals, into surrounding streams, destroying fish habitats and poisoning drinking water. To date, more than 500 mountains have been flattened and 2,000 miles of streams have been buried in waste. LCV urges the administration and Congress to end mountaintop removal mining and ensure clean drinking water for Appalachian communities, especially those areas of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Coal ash is a toxic byproduct produced from the burning of coal. The U.S. currently produces over 140 million tons of coal ash — which contains hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and other deadly heavy metals — per year, making it the second largest industrial waste stream in the country. If not disposed of properly, this waste can leach into ground water, threatening public health and the environment. Recent coal ash spills in North Carolina and West Virginia highlight the devastating effects that coal ash can have on local communities and ecosystems. These spills disproportionately affect low-income communities. As a result of litigation brought by the environmental community, the EPA must finalize a national coal ash wastewater rule by September 2015. Along with our coalition partners, LCV is encouraging the EPA to quickly finalize and implement their proposed rule while also defending against attacks in Congress to prohibit the EPA from regulating this harmful pollution and efforts to dilute the final rule.