The health of Maine’s coast is at risk as the streams that feed into it are threatened by reckless development, highly toxic chemicals and unregulated pollution. More specifically, here’s what’s at stake:
Recreation: Maine’s coast is a regional vacation and recreational hot spot for Mainers and people from across New England, that seek access to boating, kayaking and swimming. Maine’s coastline is also known for its beautiful beaches, quaint coastal towns and lighthouses.
Wildlife: Maine’s coast is home to a wide variety of wildlife: whales, lobsters and seabirds.
Economy: Maine’s coast is a huge source of revenue coming from recreation and tourism-related employment. Maine’s coast is known for its B&Bs, shops and restaurants.
Although our coasts and all our state waterways provide us with so much, polluters continue to dump directly into our waterways and into the streams that feed them. In 2007, industrial facilities dumped more than 3.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Maine’s waterways. We have regulations on the books to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years these regulations have been weakened, allowing polluters to dump virtually unlimited pollution into the streams and wetlands that feed our great waterways.
The Clean Water Act is the key piece of legislation designed to protect our waters. Maine played a critical role in its original passage, with then-Sen. Edmund Muskie helping to craft the original legislation in 1972, during a time when America’s rivers were so polluted that some, like Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, caught on fire. We have come a long way in 30 years. Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions have set us back, taking away Clean Water Act protections for thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands.
Now developers can pave over wetlands and pollute the streams that feed into coastal waters, and there is nothing the federal government can do about it. According to recent Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, data, 55 percent of Maine’s streams may no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act.
This year, we have an opportunity to restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent and once again protect all our waterways by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act. This simple bill reaffirms that all, not just some, of our waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.
Right-wing ideologues and special interests that want carte blanche to pollute our waterways will argue that this bill is something it is not. For years, they have claimed that the Clean Water Restoration Act would bring the Feds into your backyard requiring permits for every birdbath, mud puddle and swimming pool. Not only is this untrue, but it also is inconceivable that the EPA would have the desire, let alone the resources, to regulate the water quality of your birdbath.
The fact is, this bill does not impose any new regulatory requirements and does not broaden or add any new category of waters to the scope of the Clean Water Act. It would simply restore the law, clearly protecting what was protected before the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision. There are also exemptions for farmers in the Clean Water Act legislation that passed the Senate committee in June.
This important legislation is now set to be taken up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We urge Rep. Mike Michaud, who serves on the committee, to follow in Sen. Muskie’s steps and protect America’s waters by helping it to pass in the House. We cannot wait another year as our waterways continue to be polluted. We need Congress to act now to preserve Maine’s coasts and protect all of America’s waterways.
Daniel Meyer of Readfield is a former president of Maine Public Health Association. Caitlin Seeley of Portland is a field organizer for Environment Maine.