Guest Column: Clean Water Act: Supporters of clean water must make their voices heard

By Wouter Hammink
Clean Water Campaign Organizer, Environment Illinois

The Rock River is an Illinois treasure, providing clean drinking water, and drawing countless visitors each year who camp, hike and ski. What’s more, the Rock River and other waterways in the area provide a critical space for local groups to use, explore and enjoy.

We should be doing everything we can to protect our waterways. But far too many of the streams and wetlands that flow in to the Rock River, along with 56 percent of the streams that crisscross our state, don’t have guaranteed protections under the Clean Water Act. That means developers could build over our wetlands; oil companies, power plants or meat processing plants could dump into our streams; and federal law couldn’t stop them, thanks to a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven lawsuits nearly a decade ago.

Fortunately, in March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to close this loophole and restore protections to 135,000 miles of streams across Illinois, and nearly 2 million across the country. A broad coalition of clean-water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and tens of thousands of Illinoisans have heralded the EPA move, and more than 800,000 comments were submitted in support of the rule nationwide.

However, agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters, have waged a bitter campaign against it. Right before being sworn in as senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, declared his commitment to destroy the EPA’s proposed rule. And just a few days later, Congress scheduled a rare joint hearing on the rule. This hearing is undoubtedly intended to preface votes against the rule in both the House and Senate.

Feb. 4, Congress will hold a joint session of the House Transportation & Infrastructure and Senate Environment & Public Works Committees. Polluters and their friends in Congress are preparing an assault on the Clean Water Rule. It’s urgent now — more than ever — that U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, speak up in support of the rule.

In the face of all the opposition from the polluters, it’s critical that all Illinoisans who value clean water make their voices heard. And it’s critical that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Rep. Bustos stand up for these rules if they come to the Senate and House floors.

Illinoisans depend on clean water to enjoy and to drink. Let’s do everything we can to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy our waterways.

Environment Illinois is a statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for the places we love and the environmental values we share.

From the Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2015, issue

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