Bill in Congress jeopardizes Savannah River

Our waterways are the lifeblood of our communities. They provide us with our drinking water, dilute our waste, move our cargo and nourish our souls.

It was almost 40 years ago now that we as a nation decided regulating the discharges into our crucial waterways made sense. The Clean Water Act of 1972 has greatly improved our rivers and streams. Take our beloved Savannah River. She may still have her problems, but she is drastically cleaner than she was just 30 short years ago.

And if some in Congress have their way, we could soon begin heading in the opposite direction.

AN AGGRESSIVE movement is under way to dismantle this federal law that has served to protect our rivers and ourselves from pollution. The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act -- House Resolution 2018, scheduled to be presented to the congressional floor this week -- proposes to gut the Clean Water Act and jeopardize the gains that we have made over four decades.

Proponents of H.R. 2018 will tell you the federal government shouldn't have oversight of the states and their water programs, which vary greatly in standards and enforcement. Individual states would be free to use and abuse our rivers based on their perception of what is right. They could choose to ignore the needs of those downstream and in neighboring states despite the consequences.

No consideration is even given to the conflicts that would arise when rivers are shared between two states. This movement would wreak havoc on our river, not to mention the issues in Atlanta, leaving no one in charge of actually regulating what is being put into our dear Savannah.

So, exactly what does this "rule" do? It will:

- prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from stepping in if a state fails to adequately protect our waterways from pollution;

- discourage informed decision-making on federal permits that impact water quality and public health;

- prevent the EPA from updating outdated and ineffective water quality standards;

- undermine the EPA's ability to protect states from cross-border pollution.

Proponents are claiming this rule would help "save taxpayer money." They claim this will streamline processes and make permitting move through faster. Again, I ask one simple question: What about rivers shared by two or more states? Those rivers will be quickly tied up in legal battles, which are costly to say the least.

THE SNAKE-OIL salesmen behind this bill are trying hard to protect their fiscal interests in coal mining projects -- in fact, they don't even try to hide it. It is clearly stated in their "determination of need" for the bill. Their shortsighted desires to protect their monetary interests will effectively hog-tie all of the progress happening on our river, and lead us down a path of state vs. state legal battles for years to come.

Can you imagine the race to the bottom that would ensue as states agreed to lower their water quality standards to attract new industries? This bill is cronyism at its worst, and we the citizens are the ones who are going to lose. This bill must be stopped!

The strength of the Clean Water Act lies in its balance of shared authority between the federal government and the states, which too often face pressure by special interests to weaken water quality standards in the name of short-term financial gain -- and with long-term damage to our waterways.

By every objective measure, the Clean Water Act works. Let's not deny Americans, and especially our fellow Georgians and South Carolinians, the basic right to clean water.

Please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to oppose H.R. 2018. See www.congress.org.

(The writer is executive director of Savannah Riverkeeper.)

More