Clean Water Safeguards Headed Down the Drain?
THIRTY-NINE YEARS AGO, CONGRESS SIGNED INTO LAW A HISTORIC PIECE OF LEGISLATION THAT WOULD, FOR MORE THAN THREE DECADES, TURN THE TIDE OF OUR POLLUTED WATERWAYS AND HOLD BIG POLLUTERS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.
When the Clean Water Act was enacted, the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it literally caught fire, the majestic Hudson River’s fishery was gone and Lake Erie was declared all but dead. This bold legislation put forward by visionaries in Congress returned control of our nation’s waterways to the citizens of the United States as part of the public trust. However, today the concept of the public trust, the commons, is being quickly eroded by corporate polluters and their cronies in Congress who are determined to return to the era of using out nation’s waterways as open sewers, toxic dumps and landfills.
Despite the fact that the Clean Water Act has been responsible for providing millions of Americans with opportunities to swim, drink and fish in clean water, every branch of our federal government—the legislative, executive and judicial—have taken aim at the Act. The courts have worked to narrow the definition of “waters of the United States,” the Bush Administration used its power to narrow that definition even further, and Congress made efforts to chip away at the Act. Even the states have joined the party, cutting clean-water enforcement budgets every time they face a fiscal challenge. Now, however, our Congress is launching the most aggressive, nefarious attacks on our right to clean water in the nation’s history.
As the Clean Water Act moves into its 40th year, it faces a crisis not of its own doing, but one engineered by members of Congress who put the interests of the public aside to do the bidding of the corporate polluters who fill their campaign coffers. If their efforts succeed, they will cripple contemporary American democracy and undermine the most extraordinary body of environmental law in the world. We cannot allow that to happen.
For the past several months, a myriad of bills before the U.S. House of Representatives either have been laden with extraneous amendments and anti-environmental “riders” that seek to dismantle our environmental protections piecemeal or, in the case of one of these bills, the cynically named “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011" (H.R. 2018), seeks to take a sledgehammer to the very foundation of the Clean Water Act, which has become a global model for water protection.
Seeking to strip the federal government’s authority to regulate water quality standards and weaken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power to enforce the law when states fail to protect waterways, this approach will start a race to the bottom, as shortsighted and self-interested state politicians dismantle their clean water laws in payback to their supporters, including the nation’s worst polluters.
These bills, amendments and budget riders propose to gut the Clean Water Act and jeopardize the environmental health of our waterways and the lifeblood of our communities across the country, all without public debate. We must take action. This Congress must face the same public backlash that the l04th Congress faced when it took aggressive action to despoil the waters we use for swimming, drinking and fishing.
Waterkeeper Alliance and our partners will work every day to remind Americans, and the world, that we have indeed come a long way from 1969, when the Cuyahoga River was burning. But we still have a long way to go to protect all of our waterways. Congress’ 1972 goal was to have eliminated all discharges of pollutants into the nation’s navigable waters by 1985. Almost two decades later, in 2002, the U.S. EPA mournfully acknowledged that water quality in many parts of the country was in steady decline.
Waterkeeper Alliance is officially launching its Clean Water Act 40 Campaign to celebrate, activate and advocate for the Clean Water Act during the 40th anniversary of this landmark legislation. Throughout 2012, Waterkeeper Alliance will be working with partners to engage communities across the nation to stand up for their basic right to swimmable, drinkable and fishable water. We will not stand for any attacks on our communities that undermine the clean water protections that our streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries have been afforded over the past 40 years.
Reprinted with permission from Waterkeeper Magazine. To read the winter issue of the Waterkeeper Magazine, click here.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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