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6 Reasons to Celebrate the Signing of the Clean Water Rule

Yesterday our country took one of its biggest steps ever to protect clean water with a new standard that restores safeguards to nearly 2 million miles of headwaters and streams and tens of millions of acres of wetlands.

Building on decades of successful water protections, the Clean Water Rule will defend sources of safe drinking water for one in every three Americans by clarifying protections that had come under challenge from some of the country's biggest polluters.

The new rule is a victory for all of us, if we can keep it from being thwarted by its foes and their allies in Congress.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have already teed up a showdown over this needed rule, a largely partisan battle that pits oil and gas companies, shopping center builders, Big Agriculture and others against the basic American right to clean water.

The Republican-led House sided earlier this month with the polluters.

We're counting on the Senate to stand up for clean water.

For more than four decades, American waters have been protected by the Clean Water Act, passed by overwhelming Republican and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 1972.

In recent years, though, this important law has come under withering attack by interests that stand to profit from weakening the protections the law provides.

In essence, these groups claim the Clean Water Act shouldn't apply to vast reaches of streams and wetlands because these bodies of water are too remote, too small or too dependent on seasonal rains to count.

That, of course, is nonsense.

Even mighty rivers start small, taking on volume from wetlands and tributaries as water flows downhill.

Pollution at any point along the journey threatens all the waters downstream.

That's why state and local officials, members of Congress, advocates for industry, agriculture, the environment and others, as well as members of the public at large, have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify the reach of the Clean Water Act.

The agencies have participated in more than 400 meetings on the issue nationwide. Over just the past year, they've reviewed more than a million comments from people who depend on clean water for things like raising food, running their businesses, attracting tourism or fishing and hunting.

And here's what they've found: 87 percent of the people who commented want the waters of America protected.

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That's exactly what the agencies have in mind with the Clean Water Rule, made final yesterday.

Unless the polluters and their congressional allies get their way.

On May 12, the GOP-led House passed a bill to block the vital safeguards contained in the new Clean Water Rule—two weeks before the final rule was even issued.

The opponents didn't need to see the final rule to vote against the measure, putting polluter profits first—and putting our drinking water at risk.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

The Clean Water Rule, though, needs to go forward without further congressional obstruction or delay.

The rule's protections will provide the country with up to $572 million worth of benefits every single year, the U.S. EPA estimates.

The wetlands and waterways this rule will defend help protect our communities from flooding. They filter industrial, agricultural and urban pollutants out of our water. They provide habitat for wildlife. And they help to recharge groundwater supplies.

Water is the foundation of life. What threatens that imperils us all.

We need our Senate to put our future first, put this pernicious legislation to bed and let the people who keep our water clean do the job we're counting on them to do.

Rhea Suh is the president of Natural Resources Defense Council.

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