xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Close Clean Water Act loophole

The Chesapeake Bay and all of its connected lakes and tributaries are a vital resource for Maryland, providing clean drinking water and drawing millions of visitors each year to the area who seek outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking, sailing and bird watching. What's more, large waterways, like the Potomac and the Susquehanna, as well as smaller ones in the area, like the Pokomoke River, support hundreds of small businesses that help Marylanders use and explore their waterways.

We should be doing everything we can to protect our waterways. But far too many of the streams and wetlands that flow into the Chesapeake, along with more than half of the streams that crisscross our state, do not have guaranteed protections under the Clean Water Act. That means developers could build over our wetlands, and oil companies, power plants or meat processing plants could dump pollution into our streams, and federal law could not stop them, due to a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven lawsuits nearly a decade ago.

Advertisement

The Clean Water Act has helped restore polluted rivers for decades, assuring that Americans across the country have access to the clean drinking water that they deserve. But the fact is, despite the many successes of the Clean Water Act, polluters still dump about 200 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways nationwide each year.

The loophole in the act leaves vulnerable the wetlands and streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its many rivers and lakes popular for paddling and swimming, and that leaves businesses like Pokomoke River Canoe Company in Snow Hill more vulnerable, too. It rents kayaks and canoes, conducts water tours of the area and works with local schools, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and churches to conduct tours and educational experiences. Serving approximately 1,500 customers each year and employing several staff members, the Pokomoke River Canoe Company's business model depends entirely upon the health of the Pocomoke River and other rivers and lakes in the region.

Advertisement
Advertisement

"It isn't just the canoe shop that would suffer in the case of a major pollution problem," says employee Ron Pilling. "The Pocomoke River Canoe Company is Snow Hill's signature business. We attract more people to town than any other local business, and many of our guests stay to dine at … local eateries and to shop in the galleries. Our guests tend to return to paddle with us year after year because we offer the most beautiful river on the shore and can honestly say that it's safe to fish and swim. … Without a clean Pocomoke River, we're out of business."

Moreover, it is not just water-based businesses that suffer from water pollution. Every business and member of the community depends on clean drinking water.

Fortunately, in March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to close this loophole that previously left 59 percent of Maryland's streams and millions of acres of wetlands open to pollution, in addition to nearly 2 million streams across the country.

A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses and tens of thousands of Marylanders have heralded the EPA move. However, agribusinesses, oil and gas companies and other polluters affected by the rule have waged a bitter campaign against it, and earlier this month, the U.S. House approved a bill, H.R. 5078, to block the new common-sense rule. Many Maryland representatives proudly voted against this bill, but it passed in the House and was sent on to the Senate.

Advertisement

There is still time and the opportunity to get these restored protections across the finish line. The EPA is taking public comments on their proposal until Friday. Given the election outcome, we expect to face even heavier opposition from the polluters and their allies. Therefore, it is critical that all Marylanders who value clean water make their voices heard.

Marylanders depend on clean water to enjoy and to drink. Businesses like Pokomoke River Canoe Company depend on clean water to make a living. We need to do everything we can to foster a strong economy and a high quality of life for generations to come.

Tess Fields is an intern at Environment Maryland and studies Global Environmental Change and Sustainability at Johns Hopkins University. Her email is tessfields@comcast.net.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement