It would seem inarguable that one of the government’s basic responsibilities is to set standards ensuring that people in the United States have safe drinking water. So in May 2015 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final version of the Clean Water Rule, “the agency cheered the broad reach of the rule, arguing that it would protect the drinking water of some 117 million Americans, or roughly a third of the population.”
But then along came Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), who promptly introduced a resolution to kill the EPA’s Clean Water Rule that was passed in November – ostensibly to protect “farmers and ranchers”, who coincidentally only comprise two percent of the population. Yesterday, the Republican-led House similarly voted 253-166 for a resolution to overturn the EPA ruling. President Barack Obama has, all-along, threatened to veto the resolutions should they pass Congress.
The agencies and their supporters say the safety of drinking water and stream health are threatened because of weak state and local regulation and a lack of enforcement. The rule is meant to make it clearer which waterways the EPA and the Corps of Engineers can oversee under the 43-year-old Clean Water Act, which covers “navigable waters” such as the Mississippi River and Lake Erie, but is vague on how far upstream protections must go to keep those water bodies clean.
Considering that just a few days ago it was disclosed that Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder knowingly poisoned residents of Flint, Michigan by not placing an anti-lead preventive in Flint’s water supply as required by federal law in order to save money in an attempt to balance the city’s budget – the callousness of the vote in the Republican House should not go unnoticed. However, almost two years ago, in an attempt to save money under a financial state of emergency, Michigan switched the source of its water supply from Lake Huron (one of the Great Lakes) to the polluted Flint River, notorious to the people of Flint for its filth. As Flint resident Rhonda Kelso said:
“We thought it was a joke…People my age and older, thought ‘They’re not going to do that…The water would come in brown and my daughter was like ‘Mom … why is the water brown? “
Kelso actually thought the brown color came from sewage, but no, it was iron, which was 19 times more potent than the Lake Huron supply. The mineral chemically reacted with lead lining old plumbing in many homes. Because the governor did not add the anti-lead preventive, the chemical soup started poisoning many of the residents – resulting in Kelso and four other families filing a class-action lawsuit.
CNN noted that “Flint residents say they were kept in the dark for 18 months until a local doctor, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha a physician in a local medical center pediatric ward took things into her own hands. “When (my research team and I) saw that it was getting into children and when we knew the consequences, that’s when I think we began not to sleep…at first, the state publicly denounced her work, saying she was causing near hysteria. They spent a week attacking her before reversing their narrative and admitting she was right.” Ironically, adding that agent would have cost about $100 a day, and experts say 90 percent of the problems with Flint’s water would have been avoided.
It should be noted that in the last couple of days, the Michigan National Guard began arriving in Flint to help with the drinking water crisis, including distributing bottled water to the municipality’s residents.
This EPA rule pertained to clearing up the ambiguity brought about “because a pair of Supreme Court rulings left significant waterways with unclear protections, including ones that sometimes lead to sources of drinking water.” In developing the Clean Water Rule, the EPA and the Corps relied on a synthesis prepared by EPA’s Office of Research and Development of more than 1,200 published and peer-reviewed scientific reports; the synthesis discusses our current scientific understanding of the connections or isolation of streams and wetlands relative to large water bodies such as rivers, lakes, estuaries, and oceans.
We know, through their well-established litany of ignorant utterances, that Republicans don’t care about science – only about the corporations and greedy oligarchs that pull their strings. Consider the list of backers who lobbied against the EPA rule: The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have joined the ranks of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, pesticide manufacturers, mining companies, home builders, and the Koch-owned-and-run timber industry, to name but a few.
Now consider that the citizens of Flint are mostly poor, with 40 percent of the population living below the poverty level. So when House Speaker Paul Ryan writes: “The Obama administration’s sweeping new rule, dubbed Waters of the United States (WOTUS), could upend the way water is used across the country,” for whom is he speaking? Clearly he is not concerned about ensuring clean drinking water for the 117 million Americans or the poor residents of Flint.
Should it ever be necessary in this country in the 21st century to call out the National Guard to distribute drinking water because a Republican governor or any official elected or otherwise decided to poison a city of people to save $100 a day?
People living in this country use water without a second-thought in everything from drinking and cooking – to growing the crops we eat – to the animals we raise – only in a Republican world is ensuring the safety of the waters of the United States ‘upending the way water is used in this country.’ He’s not wrong – the way corporations pollute water and then sell it back to consumers is being upended, and that’s a win that’s long overdue.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.