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Clean Water, 42 Years Later

The changes made possible by the Clean Water Act have proven to be vital to the success of American businesses. Companies rely on clean water to produce safe, high quality products, and to protect their workers’ health. There has been great progress over the past 42 years, but more work lies ahead.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, the predecessor of the Clean Water Act, came at a critical juncture in our country’s history. Decades of industrial development had adversely impacted our water quality, and had mostly gone unnoticed. The Act changed that, leading to increasing awareness and concern over water pollution.

Increasing public awareness over the next two decades led to legislative amendments in 1972, which ultimately came to be known as the Clean Water Act. Those amendments gave the EPA regulatory authority over U.S. waters, established the construction of sewage treatment plants, and made it unlawful for people to discharge any pollutant without a permit.

Those amendments were crucial in protecting clean water for businesses and workers. But again, they only represented one step in the process. Over the following decades, the Clean Water Act continued to be amended to solve the new challenges. And now, in 2014, more changes are needed.

A series of Supreme Court rulings has thrown EPA’s authority over wetlands, streams, and smaller bodies of water into question. Upstream companies are polluting those waters and getting away with it, putting downstream businesses and communities at risk. Business owners have noticed, and they want action. A recent ASBC poll found that 92 percent of small business owners support regulations to protect our water and air.

Think of an industry, and it probably relies on clean water, at least indirectly. This resource is crucial for products like craft beer, clothing, produce, and even technology. Businesses and industries can’t survive without it—and the economy doesn’t need more hurdles to clear.

The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have tried to address this issue by proposing a rule—Waters of the U.S.—that would clearly define all the bodies of water that are under their protection, but they are facing opposition from some members of Congress, who recently passed a bill to override the EPA and Army Corps’s proposed rule and severely limit their powers. This would be incredibly shortsighted—the economy doesn’t benefit when our waterways are polluted, and small business owners know it. It’s time we listen to them.

As we toast the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, let’s remember that industries as diverse as craft beer, tourism, and agriculture need us to continue protecting our waterways. They’ve been able to rely on these protections for decades. Let’s not muddy the waters now.

Bryan McGannon is Director of Policy at ASBC.