An Editorial Comment
by Scott Brown, ML&SA Executive Director
For those of us old enough to at least vaguely remember a thankfully bygone era when our nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands were commonly used as convenient dumping grounds for industrial waste, December 2nd, 1970 represented the beginning of the end of a particularly tragic period in our nation’s otherwise remarkable history. On this great day for our country, President Richard M. Nixon signed legislation that created the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), an event that would mark the start of a promising new era in environmental protection. Legislation creating the USEPA was ultimately prompted by progressively heightened public awareness that our nation’s air and water were becoming increasingly polluted, a fact that was affirmed in the minds of many Americans during the early summer of 1969 as the now infamous photo of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River engulfed in flames appeared on the nightly news, and on the cover of a then widely read Time magazine. The Cuyahoga River fire would also help spark the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, landmark legislation that would serve to define the mission and goals of the fledgling USEPA by establishing a basic system for regulating discharges of various pollutants into the waters of the United States, and for establishing and regulating surface water quality standards. Under the Clean Water Act, the USEPA has worked to establish and implement wastewater standards for industry, and water quality standards for contamination of surface waters. The Clean Water Act also made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into the navigable waters of the United States, and established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program that regulates discharges into the nation’s waters. The non-partisan federal Office of Management and Budget has consistently given its top cost effectiveness rating to the USEPA, noting that the value of the benefits derived versus the cost of investing in efforts to protect, and/or restore our nation’s water and air quality often exceeds a remarkable 10 to 1 ratio. The direct and in-direct benefits to human health and economic productivity that have resulted from successful USEPA efforts to protect, and/or restore our nation’s air and water quality have contributed trillions of dollars of wealth to our citizens, to our public and private institutions, and to our corporations.
For the Great Lakes state, blessed with 36,000 miles of streams, 11,000 thousand inland lakes, and countless acres of wetlands, recent “promises” by the new administration to eliminate the USEPA, or to dramatically reduce the agency’s operating budget and staffing levels, and rescind federal regulations that help ensure that our waters stay clean and potable, all carry the potential to have a devastating effect on current efforts to protect, and restore Michigan’s water resources. The many important projects that the USEPA currently funds and administers on a collaborative basis in the Great Lakes region include efforts to prevent the spread of Asian carp, funding and administering the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that provides grants to state and local projects that are designed to prevent invasive species, restore impaired watersheds, and restore fish habitat. In addition, USEPA provides Great Lakes region states, including Michigan, with grants that fund projects designed to reduce non-point source pollution levels that often lead to excess nutrient loading in many of our lakes and streams. The USEPA also administers federal grant programs that support various national, state, and local initiatives designed to improve water and air quality, combat invasive species, and to improve drinking water infrastructure. Michigan’s on-going Flint water crisis should have provided us all with a wake-up call regarding the increasingly desperate need to invest in a much needed modernization of our nation’s drinking and waste water management infrastructure.
The new administration and its allies in Congress are also “promising” to eliminate the Waters of the United States rule which was instituted in 2015 in order to fully restore federal government authority to limit pollution in our nation’s wealth of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. Culminating many years of research and monitoring by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and carefully crafted to include the latest scientific data, and significant input from a diverse group of public and private stakeholders, the final language of the rule served to re-establish a modest level of protection to the water resources that one third of Americans (110 million people) rely upon for their daily drinking water. Moreover, for the first time in many decades, tens of thousands of our nation’s wetlands, streams, and inland lakes that provide essential habitat to fish and wildlife, and that serve as immense economic treasures, were once again placed under some degree of protection. Did you know, for example, that sport fishing in America helps support more than 800,000 jobs, and that the 30 million people who fish spend close to $50 billion annually on equipment, licenses, trips, and other fishing-related purchases? The fact is, pollution free streams, rivers, and lakes that are capable of supporting and sustaining healthy fish populations represent the very foundation of our nation’s recreational fishing industry.
To even the most sadly uninformed of our fellow citizens, there should be no surprise in learning that clean water is an indispensable resource for sustaining life on earth. Regardless of our race, religion, political beliefs, economic status, or how we choose to live our lives, pollutant free water resources that are capable of providing us all with clean, potable water are an absolute requirement for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. We encourage you to share your views regarding the importance of maintaining clean, healthy, and sustainable water resources with your respective member of the United States House of Representatives, and our United States Senators.