In a commercial that I remember from my childhood, a Native American man canoes through a polluted river, then past a factory that is spewing out dark clouds. He docks his canoe on a beach that is littered with garbage and then is almost hit by a bag of trash that someone throws out of a car window. The last image is a close-up of the man’s face with a single tear falling from his eye. If I remember correctly, it was part of a “Keep America Beautiful” campaign.
As Americans, we have come to expect clean air, water and soil. In fact, there was such a ruckus about it that Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and tasked them with designing a plan for cleaning up all three of these vital resources. The EPA got to work and produced volumes of regulations to not only restore water, air and land resources, but also to prevent future pollution. It’s been 45 years, and we’re still not there yet, but things are certainly looking better (at least for the environment) than they were in 1970!
Even though I can’t recall of a single instance of anyone organizing a protest or a march on Washington demanding filthier waters or dirtier air, I think that some people need to take a step back and realize that in order for things to get better, something needs to change. As humans, we generally don’t like change — even if it is for the better. It’s not enough to recycle our water bottles and segregate our cardboard boxes anymore.
When the EPA issued a final rule clarifying its definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) in 2015, it was interesting to watch and read people’s reactions. For some, it was merely a shrug because they’re already proactively complying with stormwater, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures and other regulations, and the rule didn’t change that. For other, the response was a bit more colorful.
Shortly after the WOTUS rule was issues, we asked a group of customers how they would describe the CWA changes. Read the poster below to see what they had to say.
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The WOTUS rule has been heavily contested within several states and groups filing suit against the EPA. A surprising group that protested this change was agriculture, who you might think would have the largest interest in keeping water clean and safe because it is so essential to their livelihood. It’s understandable, in one regard, because most farmers don’t have the luxury of an environmental manager on-staff to research regulations and develop compliance plans.
Whatever the outcome, the intent of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is,and always has been, to safeguard the nation’s waters. The problem was that because the definitions were vague, each state, municipality and each individual inspector interpreted the rule differently. The WOTUS rule did not really change any regulatory requirements, but rather was intended to provide more clarity, or in other words, to help everyone see the same picture. It was also supposed to free up the EPA from having to make case-by-case decisions on what is or is not covered under the rule.
Yes, this rule may be a game changer for some companies who were previously able to take advantage of supposed ambiguities, but for those who have sought to do their part to keep the nation’s waters clean, it’s business as usual.