For nearly 70 years I have enjoyed the beauty of Maine’s outdoors, from the majestic Down East lakes to the remote ponds, streams and rivers throughout our western mountains and North Woods. As a sportsman and proud Mainer, access to our state’s public lands and waters is critical to our way of life.
More than 10 years ago, two Supreme Court decisions created confusion over the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. The lack of clarity about exactly what water is protected by the Clean Water Act has taken its toll. For the first time in over 40 years, the rate of wetland loss is on the rise. Nationwide, 20 million acres of wetlands already have lost Clean Water Act protections. Advocates on both sides of the aisle and the Supreme Court called for clarification from EPA and the Corps of Engineers in the form of a new rule.
The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have just released the new final rule to clarify which bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act. This new Clean Water Rule restores protections for wetlands and headwater streams that provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife. These are waters that reduce flooding and supply drinking water to one in three Americans, including 500,000 Mainers. Without the new Clean Water Rule, 60 percent of our nation’s stream miles are at greater risk for pollution because of Clean Water Act confusion, including 55 percent of stream miles in Maine.
It took more than a year of consultation. Over 400 public meetings were held for stakeholders, and more than 1 million public comments were submitted before the new Clean Water Rule was finalized. Now, several members of Congress are leading a politically charged, last-ditch effort to derail this public rulemaking process and put Maine’s waters at risk. Overturning the new rule would have serious, damaging effects on Maine’s water supplies and the outdoor economy that clean water supports. The risk of pollution not only threatens our fisheries but also the thousands of jobs that rely on the hunting and fishing industry that contributes $1.4 billion in revenue from outdoor recreation to our state each year.
Sportsmen have been working for years to protect the waters we care about and depend on. Hunters and anglers were among the leaders who supported the Clean Water Act that was put forward by Maine Sen. Ed Muskie in 1972. Back then, Maine’s rivers were open sewers. Maine has provided national leadership restoring our rivers to a livable and healthy environment. Right now, we are losing ground in our fight to keep America’s waters free of toxic pollution and to protect our fish and wildlife. This is why more than 200 sportsmen and conservation groups have signed a letter in support of the new Clean Water Rule.
As we face down 11th-hour efforts to overturn the new Clean Water Rule, now is the time to raise our voices in support of clean water and let Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins know why we need them to stand with Maine sportsmen — and all Maine residents — to protect our water. Clean water is the cornerstone of Maine’s economy and quality of life. Our future generations depend on it.
Steve Brooke of Farmingdale is secretary of the Maine State Council of Trout Unlimited.