“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.” -Lynn Noel 

Don’t turn back the clock

From the Great Lakes to the Colorado River, from Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waters are where we go to swim, fish, canoe, kayak or just enjoy the scenery. They supply us with clean drinking water.

However, far too often we’re reminded of the bad old days, when polluters used many of America’s waters as their own private sewers:

In January 2014, a 10,000-gallon chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River left 300,000 people without water. They couldn’t drink it, bathe in it, shower with it, cook with it, or even wash the dishes with it.

A month later, a Duke Energy pipeline collapsed, spreading more than 39,000 tons of coal ash along 70 miles of North Carolina’s Dan River.

Just six months later, in August 2014, a toxic algae bloom left 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water. The algae contained cyanotoxin—a substance so potent that the military considered “weaponizing” it. Toledo faced problems again last year, when the algae bloom hit again

We’ve worked hard to protect our waters and we’re doing all we can now to keep polluters from turning back the clock to the days when Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire. 

Even greater jeopardy

Unfortunately, polluting industries have put our waters in even greater jeopardy. They’ve been pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act ever since it first passed more than 40 years ago. After spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers, they carved loopholes in the law that left more than half of America’s streams open to pollution.

The loopholes put nearly 2 million miles of our streams at risk, threatening the drinking water of 117 million Americans. They also put at risk 20 million acres of wetlands, an area the size of South Carolina and home to millions of birds and fish. 

As a result of these loopholes, hundreds of polluters were able to escape penalties. 

For example, as Pro Publica reported, “in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Tex., the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require cleanup.

“Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible—despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation. 

In a single 18-month period, Clean Water Act loopholes undermined 500 EPA water pollution cases.

Fortunately, the EPA agreed to act, proposing a new rule that would close the loopholes so the agency could enforce the law and stop the polluters.

"Legal warfare"

However, polluting industries lobbied furiously to stop us. 

Our adversaries included big oil and gas companies, which have thousands of miles of pipelines running through wetlands. They threatened legal warfare against the plan to restore protections to these wetlands. 

Coal companies, which have a history of dumping the wastes from their mining into mountain streams, and stood to benefit if the Clean Water Act failed to protect these streams.

Powerful developers who want to pave over wetlands without restrictions. A Michigan developer named Rapanos filed one of the court cases that created the loopholes. 

Huge factory farms who generate millions of pounds of animal manure each year, some of which runs off into our water. These big agribusinesses and their congressional allies unleashed a smear campaign, designed to scare ordinary farmers into believing the EPA was out to grab their land and even “regulate puddles.” The smears were, of course, completely untrue. 

Winning the biggest step forward for clean water in a decade 

You gave us the resources to advocate in Congress, recruit and mobilize a diverse and powerful coalition, and rally the grassroots to demand action. 

  • Together with our allies, we gathered more than 800,000 comments and held more than half a million face-to-face conversations about the need to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act.
  • With the influential voices of more than 1,000 farmers, business owners and local elected officials behind us, our visibility events and media outreach efforts countered Big Ag’s smear campaign against the rule.
  • With the rule under threat, our national team held meetings with more than 50 congressional offices, urging them to champion the voice of the public and stand up for clean water. 
In 2015, our efforts paid off when President Obama finalized the Clean Water Rule, restoring federal protections to more than half the nation’s streams, which feed drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (sitting, right) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo Ellen Darcy (sitting, left) signed the Clean Water for America rule on May 27, 2015, with Margie Alt, Environment America executive director (second from left). 

The fight for clean water continues

In October 2015, a federal appeals court blocked full enforcement of the Clean Water Act in all 50 statesputting on hold the new protections we just won for thousands of waterways and wetlands across the country. 

We’ve put together a legal strategy to defend the Clean Water Rule, and given its strong legal and scientific basis, the courts should ultimately reject all efforts to weaken it. 

As polluters and their allies continue trying to derail this progress, your continued support helps keep the debate focused on what this issue is really about: Clean water for our families.

Clean Water Updates

News Release | Environment New York

Closing Indian Point Will Make New York City Safer while Fighting Climate Change Advocates Urge Greater Ambition

New York, NY - Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Indian Point nuclear power plant—located 24 miles north of New York City—will be shutting down by April 2021. This action will make area residents safer and more secure. 

At the same time, the governor pledged to replace Indian Point with clean energy, producing no net increase in global warming pollution. The governor proposed to work with neighboring states to strengthen limits on global warming pollution from power plants to ensure continued regional progress toward clean air. Specifically, the governor proposed to strengthen the limit on pollution set through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.

Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York, issued the following statement:

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News Release | Environment New York Research and Policy Center

Report: Tyson #1 Water Polluter Among Corporate Agribusinesses

Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat and poultry producers, dumps more toxic pollution into the nation’s waters than any other agribusiness, and produces the most animal manure of five major companies assessed nationwide, a new report said today.

The Environment New York Research & Policy Center study documented pollution from Tyson and four other major agriculture conglomerates, responsible for an estimated 44 percent of the pork, chicken, and beef produced in the U.S.

“When most people think of water pollution, they think of industrial pipes spewing toxic chemicals,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. “But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Tyson are turning farms into factories and ruining our rivers and bays in the process.”

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Report | Environment New York Research and Policy Center

Corporate Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways

Pollution from agribusiness is responsible for some of America’s most intractable water quality problems – including the “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie, and the pollution of countless streams and lakes with nutrients, bacteria, sediment and pesticides.

Today’s agribusiness practices – from the concentration of thousands of animals and their waste in small feedlots to the massive planting of chemical-intensive crops such as corn – make water pollution from agribusiness both much more likely and much more dangerous.

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Blog Post

River otter, today’s your special day | Russell Bassett

It’s International River Otter Awareness Day! Here are five reasons we appreciate these amazing creatures.

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News Release | Environment New York

Bid to block clean water protections fails in U.S. Senate

Today the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 56-42, rejected a move by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to block the Obama administration's landmark Clean Water Rule. Meanwhile yesterday, more than two dozen senators led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a comprehensive package to protect our drinking water from lead and other health threats. 

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