SELC op-ed: Clean water under attack in North Carolina

The Clean Water Act, which has protected our waters for 45 years, is based on the principle that industries are accountable for the controlling their pollution at its source. (© Upper Neuse Riverkeeper)

In a recent editorial published in The Robesonian newspaper, Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler details the many fronts on which clean water protections are being attacked across North Carolina. With polluters overseeing pollution controls at the federal level and state agencies underfunded, the need for strong protections is greater than ever.

An excerpt of the column is below; read the full piece here.


The Clean Water Act turned 45 last month and for the last four and half decades it has improved protections for our drinking water, fishing spots, and the streams and rivers where our kids play and swim. While we’ve made progress over those decades, it’s clear there is still work to do.

The protections provided by the act are under threat by politicians in Washington and Raleigh. In Washington, control of the Environmental Protection Agency has been turned over to lobbyists and representatives of the polluting industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to protect against, essentially putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse.

High on polluters’ list of laws to dismantle is the Clean Water Act. The reason is simple — the Act is based on the principle that nobody has the right to pollute their neighbors’ drinking water or fishing hole, that industries are accountable for the controlling their pollution at its source. It’s cheaper to dump chemicals like Gen X into the Cape Fear or to dig through streams and wetlands than it is to accept responsibility for pollution and to avoid it. As the pollution flows downstream, it becomes someone else’s problem.

And with polluters at the helm, the EPA has announced plans to dramatically restrict the reach of the Clean Water Act. By redefining what waters are protected, EPA intends to strip protections from small streams and wetlands that are essential to protecting our creeks, streams, and rivers as well as the communities that depend on them.

The proposed new rule is expected early next year.

The actions of politicians in Raleigh demonstrate why federal protections are essential. Over the last six years, the legislature has repeatedly cut the Department of Environmental Quality’s budget — shrinking the agency charged with protecting our streams and rivers. As a result, our state agency staff are hamstrung and short-handed as they deal with the threats to clean water posed by projects like the pipeline or disasters like Gen X.

Studying the contamination of our rivers and streams is no substitute for enforcing the protections provided under the Clean Water Act. Polluters would like nothing more than to put the burden of pollution on the families and communities living downstream, who are frequently unaware and vulnerable. Over the next several months, EPA will take another step towards that goal. Politicians in Raleigh will continue to limit the abilities of the only agency able and willing to hold polluters accountable. It will fall on the citizens of North Carolina to stand up for our drinking water, fishing holes, creeks, and streams — as thousands have done in response to Gen X contamination and the proposed pipeline. It is our duty to tell our representatives that our families and communities deserve clean water protected from pollution.

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