Boston – More than half of Massachusetts’ streams, including those feeding the Charles River and Boston Harbor, will gain federal protections under a new rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have lacked federal protection from development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"Our rivers and bays are only as clean as the streams that flow into them,” said Ben Hellerstein, campaign organizer for Environment Massachusetts. “Thanks to the Clean Water Act, we’ve made major progress in cleaning up the Charles River, Boston Harbor, and other waterways across the state. Today’s action by the Obama administration brings us closer to a future where all of Massachusetts’ waterways are safe for swimming and fishing.”
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for 4.9 million Massachusetts residents. Across the country, millions of acres of wetlands, vital for controlling floods and filtering pollutants, will also again be protected under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by the New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies.
Environment Massachusetts has played a major role in building support for restored stream protections, working with local officials, small businesses, and farmers to speak out in support of the EPA’s proposed rule. Through one-on-one conversations, Environment Massachusetts staff members have educated tens of thousands of people about the need to protect our waterways from pollution and development. Together with its affiliates and coalition partners in other states, Environment Massachusetts helped collect more than 800,000 public comments in favor of the rule.
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.
While today’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority to derail the Clean Water Rule. On Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act to block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.
“Senators Warren and Markey have consistently championed protections for our rivers and streams,” said Ben Hellerstein. “Now, as polluters redouble their efforts to roll back clean water protections, we’ll need their support in Congress more than ever.”
Environment Massachusetts is a statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentMassachusetts.org