Posts Tagged ‘Clean Water Act’

epa-5-epaFounded on December 2nd, 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a response by President Nixon, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Congress to two decades of growing concern of the American people about the deteriorating state of the environment in which they lived and the human health effects that resulted for that deteriorating state.

To address both concerns, the mission of the EPA (as stated on their website) has been to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • all parts of society — communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments — have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; and
  • the United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

To accomplish this mission, the EPA develops and enforces regulations, gives out grants, studies environmental issues, sponsors partnerships, teaches people about the environment, and publishes their findings.


Las Angeles, CA air quality compared across decades. Photo courtesy of Green Building Law.

Over the course of its history, the EPA has increased the health and quality of the environment outside and inside our bodies. By regulating air quality under the Clean Air Act (1963) the EPA sets emissions standards that insure the air we breath, particularly in cities, is healthy. As a result, air quality has dramatically improved. This has decreased the rates of respiratory distress and disorders and so lessened the burden on our healthcare system. Not to mention making the views we get to see all the more spectacular.


Water comparison between two cities in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Michigan Radio.

By regulating water quality under the Clean Water Act (1972), the the EPA sets drinking water and wastewater standards that insure the water we drink is clean and safe. An example of this that should still be fresh in all of our minds is that of Flint Michigan where EPA standards were ignored, and the results were a tremendous negative impact on the health of the residents of Flint, particularly children.


By reducing the amount of new materials we, as a society, use more land can be left looking like the lower right part of this photo instead of the upper left. Photo courtesy of FreeYork.

By promoting recycling standards and educating people about recycling (using tools like their ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ campaign), the EPA has helped reduce the amounts of raw materials needed to produce the vast quantities of foods and produces that we all need to live our lives. This reduction in the amounts of materials we need means that we can now do more with less which reduces extraction costs and leaves more areas open and natural and beautiful.


Before and after photos of glacial retreat. Photo courtesy of NASA.

By regulating greenhouse gas emissions again under the Clean Air Act (1963), the EPA is helping to reduce the amount that our planet is going to warm and so lessen the catastrophic impacts that human caused global warming is going to have on all of our lives in the next few decades.

And don’t think for a second that people, organizations, corporations, etc will reduce their environmental impacts voluntarily. No voluntary environmental protection strategy has ever worked, and when left to their own devices, the environment and the health of the public citizen suffer. One example of this is that I have already written about is the history surrounding Love Canal. And there are many, many more stories such as this one out there.

It is for all these reasons and more that I find the current attacks on the EPA so disturbing. From the nomination of Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator to the introduction by congressman Matt Gaetz (R -Florida) of H.R. 861. If passed H.R. 861 will terminate the EPA. This bill was co-sponsored by Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi), and Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia). Remember these four names. They are the names of individuals who are in favor of causing harm to the environment and to US citizens. Call your congressperson every day, and tell them repeatedly, that any support for H.R. 861 will directly harm We The People of the United States not to mention the citizens of many other countries, and the ecosystems we all require to live. Instead ask them to support the EPA and the incredibly important job they are doing in the months, years, and decades ahead.

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The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly called the Clean Water Act) of 1972 is the primary law in the USA governing water pollution in surface waters. It is operated and enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to maintain or restore the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waterways. The CWA has several sections, called Titles, that address how this goal is to be attained. Title I contains the declaration of goals and also establishes grants for research and pollution control programs. Title II establishes grants for construction of water treatment facilities. Title III explains standards of water quality and enforcement of those standards and is one of the major sections of the CWA. Title IV contains a list of licenses and permits that are available to entities that require permission or exemptions to release potential contaminants into waterways and is another of the major sections of the CWA. Title V explains how citizens can bring suit under the CWA and also protects whistle-blowers. Title VI establishes the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds which largely replace the grants from Title II and also expand the scope of the grants to include nonpoint source pollution control and estuary protection.

One of the major components of the CWA is the Water Quality Standards Program. This program is explained under Title III of the CWA and it establishes risk-based requirements for water bodies. Each water quality standard (WQS) is site specific and depends on the designated uses of that particular body of water, the potential sources of pollution for that body of water, and the species present in that body of water. If a water body does not meet its WQS a Total Daily Maximum Load for pollution is set and an implementation plan is developed setting out specific steps that will reduce pollution in that water body. Over 60,000 Total Daily Maximum Load plans have been proposed that will take effect in the next decade which is a good thing because an assessment in 2007 found that about 50% of the waterways that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA are unsafe to fish and swim in. Also, just in the last few months, the EPA has expanded the definition of waterways to include a much broader range of surface waters that fall under the CWA. The combination of WQS requiring a great deal of time and resources to do well, the large number of polluted waterways in the US, and the likely increase in the number of waterways to be assessed all contribute to water quality becoming an ever more important issue in the near future.

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