by Rachel Rosenfeld
According to the Pennsylvania state constitution, Article I, Section 27, the Environmental Rights Amendment:
“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
At present, the fundamental right of all Pennsylvanians to clean water hangs in the balance as the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Administrator Andrew Wheeler, is actively working to dismantle the federal Clean Water Rule.
Established in 2015 by the Obama Administration, the rule provided much needed clarification for which waters of the United States’ are to receive federal protections under the Clean Water Act (1972). The definition extended protections to smaller waterways including headwaters, ponds, wetlands and intermittent streams, which ultimately feed into larger navigable waterways and drinking water sources.
While industry polluters like to argue that the rule gives too much authority to the federal government and inhibits economic growth, it is important to note that 117 million Americans source their drinking water from public systems that tap into these smaller streams and water recreation and fishing account for billions each year in revenue. Additionally, the rule safeguards approximately 110 million acres of wetlands, which naturally filter pollutants from contaminated water, replenish groundwater and mitigate flooding.
As some members of Congress, in favor of corporate polluters, attempt to expedite the repeal and replacement of the rule with a looser definition covering a smaller set of waterways, many Democrats and environmental organizations are speaking up and suing the Trump Administration for this irresponsible policy undoing.
. . . the letters collected described the critical value of clean drinking water and the positive effect childhood memories of fishing, paddling and boating in healthy streams have had on their lives
The Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter is fervently opposed to the removal of the clean water protections. This past summer, volunteers and supporters in the Lehigh Valley region wrote inspirational letters addressed to Administrator Wheeler during the EPA’s Clean Water Rule public comment period, which ended on August 13th, 2018.
Most of the letters collected described the critical value of clean drinking water and the positive effect childhood memories of fishing, paddling and boating in healthy streams have had on their lives. Here’s one of those letters, written by Gregory Cook of Bethlehem:
I’ve been fortunate to have lived around water all my life:growing up near the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois, then by the Pacific Ocean off La Jolla, California, moving as an adult near the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers in Iowa, and now living above the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. One thing I’ve noticed in all of these bodies of water is that given a chance, nature can heal itself. This is a remarkable thing to see, and I very much want others to know that it’s never too late to undo the damage and even better, to protect our water from harm in the first place.
As a boy, my mother would never let me swim in the river near our house, partly due to the chemical releases from a paint factory upstream. Although the river still suffers from pollution, that particular threat is gone, and the towns in the Fox River Valley are proud of their waterfronts.
As a teen, I snorkeled in the ocean when abalone were free game and therefore rapidly depleted, and I never saw the state fish, the bright orange garibaldi. Returning as a young adult I was delighted to see that due to the establishment of a marine reserve, both species were back, and fishing was abundant.
Living in Iowa, I saw the struggle over agricultural runoff full of nitrates from fertilizers and the need for clean drinking water, especially in the state capital, Des Moines. The struggle between competing interests continues to make solutions difficult, but ensuring clean water is vital. Collaboration is key.
I consider where I live now, Bethlehem and the state of Pennsylvania, to have the most beautiful and promising waters and waterways of anywhere I’ve lived. I love the vistas and the fish and the recreation I share with my grandchildren near and in the Monocacy Creek and other waterways in the Delaware River Watershed. In some ways the struggle for clean water in Pennsylvania reminds me of what I saw in Iowa, and collaboration is key here too.
Nature can heal itself if we let it. That’s the takeaway I leave with you as I urge collaboration for clean water in our beautiful state.
by Rachel Rosenfeld
Rachel is Community Outreach Coordinator for the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)