You are here: home   Blogs   The GOAT Blog   Water activists want paradigm shift from Obama
The GOAT Blog

Water activists want paradigm shift from Obama

Document Actions
Tip Jar Donation

Your donation supports independent non-profit journalism from High Country News.

emilyu | Jan 12, 2009 01:55 PM

Over 100 U.S. water activists put their heads together in Fall 2008 and published a hefty, ambitious report called “A Blueprint for Clean Water.” The Waterkeeper Alliance report is directed at the incoming Obama administration, and proposes a whopping 58 reforms ranging from desalination to global warming.

Curling up with a cup of coffee and reading about the management of ballast water might not sound like your idea of a cozy Sunday afternoon, but the Blueprint is remarkably engaging. Each section is written by a different activist who cares passionately about his or her subject of expertise.  Some of the proposals tackle large issues, such as free trade and environmental justice. The section on dams calls for a paradigm shift in hydro:

Antiquated water laws and erroneous assumptions in science, economics and engineering have caused development that is not sustainable for the next century… Alternative solutions for managing our water supplies are urgently required to remove unnecessary dams, remove people from harm’s way, and to restore the free ecological services that rivers have always provided.

Other chapters target specific policies. The Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 2169), for example, had its knees bashed in by the Bush administration when the definition of protected waterways was narrowed to exclude "isolated" waterways, putting many western  wetlands and intermittent streams at risk.  

In response to the notorious 2002 EPA and US Army Corps of Engineer reclassification of mining waste as “fill,” which allows it to be dumped in streams and lakes, Waterkeeper activists would like to see a less “confusing,” more inclusive definition, which is proposed in the Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R.2421). 

The act has been swatted down twice by Congress, but the Waterkeeper Alliance hopes that under the new administration it will have a better chance.

 Accomplishing only a handful of the 58 changes recommended by the Blueprint for Clean Water would be an impressive feat.  Among many other calls for increased environmental regulation, the report proposes that agricultural nonpoint source pollution and the use of pesticides near waterways be regulated by permit. Two of the boldest proposals are a ban on the production of toxic materials that cannot be reused or recycled, and “consideration of a ban on all mountain top mining operations.”

It’s a big pot of policy spaghetti, and it's too early to tell which proposals will stick when thrown against White House walls. Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was a candidate for the head of the EPA in the Obama administration, and his appointment would presumably have been a boon to the 58 objectives. 

However, Obama's appointment of Lisa Jackson to the EPA position, and more recently Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein as regulatory czar,  makes the future of water policy less predictable.

Sunstein is generally considered a liberal and shares Jackson's reputation as a pragmatist.  He has written extensively about the effects of fear on decision-making, especially in politics, and his skepticism applies equally to both ends of the political spectrum. 

Sunstein attacked the precautionary principle— a point of faith for many environmentalists--in a July 2008 Boston Globe article, and his nonchalance about many perceived environmental risks may disturb Waterkeepers hoping for a  tidal wave of regulation. 

However, if  number of publications or reputation count for anything, Sunstein has produced 454 written works... and has been described as a one-man think tank.  He is not a knee jerk ideologue, but a serious public intellectual, much like the journalist Samantha Power, whom he recently married. 

If "paradigm shifts" in water policy are what is required, it will take a brilliant, creative person to implement them, and like Obama, Sunstein has the goods.

I don't trust Sunstein ...
Socratic Gadfly
Socratic Gadfly
Jan 12, 2009 10:15 PM
Any farther than I can throw him.

I think from his new perch, he will try to codify neolib market-based "solutions" to all sorts of things.
President Obama should insist that the CWA is implemented.
Peter Maier
Peter Maier
Jan 13, 2009 05:39 PM
The one thing the general public should hope for is that the Obama Administration finally will implement the Clean Water Act as it was promised and intended and that simply can done by correcting an essential water pollution test used as its backbone for its regulations. Even tough EPA acknowledged this in 1984, in stead of correcting the test, EPA allowed an alternative test and thereby not only lowered the goal of the Act from ‘elimination of all pollution” (100%) treatment to a measly 35% treatment, but also officially ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste besides exerting an oxygen demand (just like fecal waste) also is a fertilizer for algae and thus partly responsible for the eutrophication, often resulting in dead zones, of our open waters. (www.petermaier.net)

This incorrect testing still makes it impossible to evaluate the real treatment of sewage and what the effluent waste loading is on receiving water bodies.

Large environmental groups, among them several water keepers, used this incorrect testing (causing plants to be out of compliance with their permit) to settle their lawsuits out of court, thereby diverting any settlement monies to friendly organizations, while allowing defendants to use such settlement as tax write offs. Most such cases were for this reason settled out of court, because if such cases would have been decided by the courts, al the fines would have to go to the US Treasury, while fines can not be used by defenders as tax write offs. In other words taxpayers paid for part of these settlements, while in many cases the discharge violations were caused by the actual fact that such violations were caused because the sewage was better treated as was required by their permits. A fact also acknowledged by EPA in 1984 and the main reason for the administrative ruling to allow the alternative test.

Even though most of these environmental groups have been aware of this technical problem, they refused to support any effort to correct this test, which really should be the first thing that should happen, provided we want to stop the use of our open waters as large urinals.
Environmentalist should insist that EPA implement the CWA, as promised and intended.
Peter Maier
Peter Maier
Jan 14, 2009 01:49 PM
The one thing the general public should hope for is that the Obama Administration finally will implement the Clean Water Act as it was promised and intended and that simply can be done by correcting an essential water pollution test used as its backbone for its regulations. Even tough EPA acknowledged this in 1984, in stead of correcting the test, EPA allowed an alternative test and thereby not only lowered the goal of the Act from ‘elimination of all pollution” (100%) treatment to a measly 35% treatment, but also officially ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste besides exerting an oxygen demand (just like fecal waste) also is a fertilizer for algae and thus partly responsible for the eutrophication, often resulting in dead zones, of our open waters.(www.petermaier.net)

This incorrect testing still makes it impossible to evaluate the real treatment of sewage and what the effluent waste loading is on receiving water bodies.

Large environmental groups, among them several water keepers, used this incorrect testing (causing plants to be out of compliance with their permit) to settle their lawsuits out of court, thereby diverting any settlement monies to friendly organizations, while allowing defendants to use such settlement as tax write offs. Most such cases were for this reason settled out of court, because if such cases would have been decided by the courts, al the fines would have to go to the US Treasury, while fines can not be used by defenders as tax write offs. In other words taxpayers paid for part of these settlements, while in many cases the discharge violations were caused by the actual fact that such violations were caused because the sewage was better treated as was required by their permits. A fact also acknowledged by EPA in 1984 and the main reason for the administrative ruling to allow the alternative test.

Even though most of these environmental groups have been aware of this technical problem, they refused to support any effort to correct this test, which really should be the first thing that should happen, provided we want to stop the use of our open waters as large urinals.
ballast water
Don Mitchel
Don Mitchel
Aug 05, 2009 11:27 AM
Dear Sirs, As the law of the seas treaty is expected to be a topic for consideration by the Obama administration, we can only hope that America will address their right to protect whatever lines are drawn on the map regarding our future sovereign rights to areas of the high seas and the deep sea bed where future mining an exploration are at risk from foreign sea captains being able to pollute the water by ballast dumping. Ocean currents, releasing mining material from the ocean floor, melting artic ice with ancient dormant pathogens, terrorist, are all reason we should be leading the world in this area. China has put restrictions on ships from Mexico and the US for ballast water out to the two hundred mile limit because of H1N1. We should realize that if we were a free country without economic domination and political lobbying to keeps our biggest employers (retail jobs) supplied with manufactured goods, produced by those who hold our national debt, we would be able to enact federal legislation to lead the world in the technology needed to keep our oceans clean. This along with shoring up our Coast Guard to do the job may even create jobs. A Federal policy may free up state money being used fighting lawsuit’s to try and protect their waters, which could act as stimulus money. It might be noted that during the last presidential election that all of the major candidates were senators who were involved with the senate’s decision not to allow passage of national ballast legislation that the House of Representatives passed 395-7. Our current secretary of state (former first lady of the state where Wal-Mart has its home headquarters) would not address the issue of the natural waters that bait fish from around the country are transported in, before they were/are dumped into NY waters by the regulations she help procure to keep the fish sales uninterrupted, despite Cornell University receiving a grant to study virus in water. (85% of bait fish in US produced in the state of Arkansas) One can only wonder if she will pursue the same policy in disregarding water quality as she did in NY, in order to keep imports flowing into our country to keep retail stores full of foreign goods in order to promote economic globalization over the countries environment and Americans health.
          Sincerly Don Mitchel

Email Newsletter

The West in your Inbox

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Follow our RSS feeds!
  1. The death of backpacking? | Younger people don’t seem interested in this out...
  2. A graceful gazelle becomes a pest | Inrroducing an African gazelle called the oryx for...
  3. What's killing the Yukon's salmon? | An ecological mystery in Alaska has scientists and...
  4. Plains sense | Ten years after Frank and Deborah Popper first pro...
  5. North Dakota wrestles with radioactive oilfield waste | Regulators look at raising the limit for radiation...
More from Politics & Policy
The battle for women’s suffrage continues
The Tea Party loses one
Reflections on the Wilderness Act at 50 The concept may need some rethinking, but it's still an important way to preserve some of our most treasured land.
All Politics & Policy
 
© 2014 High Country News, all rights reserved. | privacy policy | terms of use | powered by Plone