ACTION FOR WATER PROTECTION
Water resource protection requires speaking out in some way. This can take many forms, depending on how you want to contribute. Action begins with your own awareness of the issues involved and your desire to make a difference.
How do you know who or what to believe when you read an article or letter ?The following is an example of how easy it is to be misled; first, a letter to the editor of a local newspaper by NYS District 19 Congressman John Faso. Second, a response to some of his “facts.”
Poughkeepsie Journal Published 4:02 p.m. ET March 10, 2017:
“Prior to leaving office, the Obama administration issued numerous new and far-reaching regulatory mandates.
One such last-minute regulation that has been rejected by the House and Senate is the Stream Protection Rule, which had a major impact on coal-producing regions of the nation. These 400 regulations would have destroyed one-third of the US coal-mining workforce — on top of the 68,000 coal-mining jobs lost in recent years.
In addition, the Department of Interior did not meaningfully engage with stakeholders for input, resulting in only 3 percent of our nation’s coal mines contributing information and best practices to this massive 1,640-page rule.
The impact of this action has been misrepresented by opponents who falsely allege that dumping of coal mining waste into streams and waterways will occur.
I support the Clean Water Act, and the overturning of this hastily conceived and implemented rule does nothing to affect the protections established by the important decades-old law. The Clean Water Act treats all discharges into the nation’s waterways as unlawful unless specifically authorized by permit. Not one letter of the act’s protections has changed. Furthermore, as laid out in a 1983 regulation still in place, surface mining within 100 feet of streams remains prohibited.
The reality is that this rule was not an effort to protect streams; it sought to regulate the coal industry out of business and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in that industry. Overturning it, while maintaining our nation’s commitment to high environmental standards, made sense.”
Rep. John J. Faso, 19th Congressional District
Response: Protecting our environment: who to believe?
The February 16 repeal of the Stream Protection Rule marks the beginning of a series of actions by the President and Congress to repeal environmental protection regulations and weaken the Environmental Protection Agency.
How will these actions affect us? To uncover the facts and discern them from falsehoods, we need to ask questions and apply some critical thinking.
For example, recently Representative John Faso explained his support of this Rule’s repeal. If your only information source was his statements, you would have the mistaken notion that repeal of this Rule was a reasonable action. A closer look, based in part on review of the Congressional Research Service analysis (January 17, 2017), reveals fundamental information gaps. For example:
1.“This [Stream Protection Rule] was not an effort to protect streams; it sought to regulate the coal industry out of business and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in that industry.”
Congress identified stream protection as a fundamental purpose of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), recognizing that surface mining causes erosion, contributes to flooding, pollutes water (endangering human health), destroys fish and wildlife habitats, impairs natural beauty, damages property, degrades quality of life in local communities, and counteracts government programs to protect water and other natural resources. In 2008 the Office of Surface Mining responded to the need for an updated rule to protect waterways from mining operations and began development of a Stream Protection Rule.
The proposed rule was expected to reduce coal- related employment by 260 jobs (annual average), while adding 250 jobs (annual average) from increased compliance activity. Industry critics dispute these estimates. However, coal production has fallen by 38% since 2008 (according to the Federal Energy Information Administration), largely due to competition from low-cost natural gas. Coal jobs fell by 18,000 between 2012 and 2015 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and are projected to decrease by over 15,000 between 2020 and 2040 (without the Rule).
2. “The impact of this [Rule] has been misrepresented by opponents who falsely allege that dumping of coal mining waste into streams and waterways will occur.”
The Rule was an update to regulations that didn’t address increased dumping of coal mine waste into streams due to recent mining practices (e.g. mountaintop removal). As much as 16 tons of soil and rock can be blasted away to uncover one ton of coal. Much of this overburden is dumped into adjacent valleys, filling streams, polluting water, and increasing downstream flooding.
3. “the overturning of this hastily conceived and implemented rule does nothing to affect the protections established by the [Clean Water Act]…”
The Stream Protection Rule was the product of years of study and included a lengthy public comment period. As part of the SMCRA, it addressed environmental impacts of all phases of surface coal mining and reclamation. The Clean Water Act is a separate program that regulates discharges of pollutants into waters of the United States from many sources including coal mining— but doesn’t protect public health from the other impacts of coal mining.
4. “Overturning it [the Rule], while maintaining our nation’s commitment to high environmental standards, made sense”
Rep. Faso used his statements to justify his support of the Clean Water Act. But what is meant by “commitment to high environmental standards” if we are eliminating water protections?
This quick review is just one example of why we need to dig deeper for the facts: Ask questions, check sources, and apply critical thinking to discern what’s true. We need clean air and water for life. When we take a step backwards from protecting them, we risk not only our health and safety but also our childrens’ future.
Many ways to get involved
Becoming a water activist can be as subtle or large-scale as you want. Consider:
- One-on-one conversations with neighbors . . . or forming coalitions
- Taking a child on a nature walk . . . or developing public education programs
- Writing a letter . . . or raising a sign in a public statement of advocacy
Long-term, sustainable projects for water resource conservation
Water resource protection is a long-term activity. It follows water through all stages of the water cycle in order to:
- keep water free from harmful contaminants
- protect an adequate water supply, for people and for aquatic ecosystems
- use water efficiently (water conservation)
- deal with effects of climate change (for example, increased flooding), and
- preserve healthy watersheds and ecosystems.
Tips for initiating water protection projects
Speaking out can be part of a larger project. This section features tips on two specific water-protection projects: a watershed conservation plan of action, and a local water resources protection law. These projects are based on water protection recommendations from Connecting the Drops, where you’ll find more details.
Too often a watershed management plan gathers dust on a shelf. To be useful, a written plan must be accompanied by action. Action is more effective if it’s part of a larger plan. Community support strengthens a watershed plan.
When you identify watershed problems and how you will measure them, you may need a local law to achieve watershed protection goals. Voluntary participation generally doesn’t work when it comes to protecting water, because water is a shared resource. Non-participants have the potential to ruin the quality of everyone else’s water. A local law can equalize participation.