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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks on the Framework for Clean Water, As Prepared

04/27/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

I’m glad to be here to join you all to talk about the Obama Administration’s broad commitment to protecting and preserving clean water in America. And I’m glad to be back in Milwaukee, a city has taken a well-recognized leadership role on clean water. Just last February, for example, the Clean Water America Alliance awarded the Milwaukee Water Council the 2011 U.S. Water Prize for watershed-based approaches to water sustainability. And the Milwaukee Water Council is establishing public-private collaborations that advance water technology and promote economic development – making the Milwaukee area a “World Water Hub.” I commend the groups – the University’s School of Freshwater Science, the Menomonee Valley Green Business Park, and the many water innovation leaders here – that are helping to make Milwaukee a hub for water quality and water security technologies.

You are all part of a long history of water protection in this country. A generation ago, the American people faced almost unimaginable health and environmental threats in their waters. Layers of industrial pollution on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire, while Lake Erie was declared dead. In Washington, DC, the Potomac was coated with so much sewage that the pollution could be smelled in the city on hot days. These circumstances prompted Congress to come together and find bipartisan solutions like the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Ocean Dumping Act. The EPA was created to set and enforce commonsense standards to protect human health and the environment.

The 1970’s initiated several extraordinary advances in the protection of the water that millions of Americans use for drinking, swimming, fishing and more. Since that time, we have doubled the number of American waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing. Rivers like the ones in and around this community are known for their beauty and the good fishing when the salmon runs – and not for pollution and health threats. I have said many times that I want to see another advance in clean water protection like we saw in the 1970s. During my time as administrator, I want to be a part of changes that will benefit American communities for 10, 20, or 40 years down the road.

I’m very glad to have the support of President Obama in that effort. In addition to standing with EPA, the president has tasked people across the administration with taking comprehensive and commonsense steps to protect the water that is so important to our lives and livelihoods. The president knows, as we know, that even though our nation has come a long way, we still have our work cut out for us. Today in the US, about one-third of our waters still do not meet clean water standards. We face new pollution challenges that require innovative solutions and cost-effective strategies. And in many cases, we lack clarity on what waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.

These are issues that Americans are deeply concerned about. A recent Gallup poll on a range of environmental issues showed that at least 75 percent of Americans “worry a great deal or a fair amount” about pollution in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and drinking water. In fact, clean water issues topped every other environmental issue asked about in the poll. Behind those numbers are the human stories that demonstrate the value Americans place on clean water: parents who want to know that the water they give their children is safe…the memories of a cherished family fishing spot that should be preserved…or the long-awaited dreams of retiring to a home on a beautiful stretch of clean water. The American dream includes, in no small part, safe and healthy waters.

That is why the Obama administration has launched a comprehensive effort, across several different agencies, to make sure we are continuing the work of protecting our waters into the 21st century. This effort involves work on a number of different fronts:

We are Promoting Innovative Partnerships with states, tribes, local governments and other stakeholders. We are turning to the people who know their communities best to restore urban waters, promote sustainable water supplies, and develop new incentives for farmers to protect clean water. We are Enhancing Communities and Economies by Restoring Important Water Bodies – dedicating unprecedented attention to restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades. We are Innovating for More Water-Efficient Communities so that consumers, farmers and businesses can save water – and save money. We are Ensuring Clean Water to Protect Public Health by pursuing new ways reduce contaminants in drinking water. That means updating drinking water standards, protecting drinking water sources, modernizing the tools available to communities to meet clean water standards and providing affordable clean water in rural communities. To promote stewardship, we are Enhancing Use and Enjoyment of our Waters – expanding access to waterways for recreation, protecting rural landscapes, and promoting public access to private lands for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. We are Supporting Science to Solve Water Problems. Right now, EPA has some of the world’s best water scientists and engineers working in our labs. We want to work with our public and private sector partners to build on that foundation, and engage other innovators to protect our waters.

As a final piece of this initiative, I am proud to announce today an effort to Update the Nation’s Water Policies. Today, in response to concern about the scope of clean water protections, the EPA is releasing draft guidance that clarifies where the Clean Water Act applies nationwide. Over the past decade, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings unnecessarily limited the scope of Federal protection for our waters – narrowing the definition of waters and wetlands that are protected under the Clean Water Act. Today about 117 million Americans – more than a third of the US population – get their drinking water in part from sources that lack clear protection from pollution. At the same time, businesses and regulators face uncertainty and delay when seeking to invest by the waters that can be a center for economic activity. The guidance we release today will help restore protection to our waters using principles outlined by the Supreme Court and provide clearer, more predictable guidelines for determining which water bodies are protected under the law.

In contrast to previous guidance, this won't go into effect until we receive, consider and review public comment. This will allow all stakeholders – including communities and industry – to provide input before we apply the guidance. EPA and the Army Corps will follow-up with rulemaking, using what we learn and providing further opportunity for public comment on the scope of clean water protections. We are focused on ensuring the protections of smaller waters that feed into larger ones, and keeping downstream water safe from upstream pollution. And we’re reaffirming protection for wetlands that filter pollution, store water and help keep communities safe from floods.

The guidance will provide consistency and predictability by clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies nationwide. It will also ensure that polluters can be held accountable for fouling vital waters that American communities depend on.

This is about protecting a resource that is valuable to our health and the health of our children, vital to our economy and essential to our way of life. We have many clean water challenges ahead: restoring the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay and more, using cutting-edge science to detect and remove harmful chemicals and fostering a new generation of clean water innovations – to name a few. These are daunting tasks, but entirely achievable for a nation that restored the Cuyahoga, brought Lake Erie back to life, and revitalized the Potomac.

American families and businesses are counting on us to maintain and improve the rivers, lakes, streams and other waters that support thousands of communities and millions of jobs across the country. The steps we're outlining today will be instrumental to protecting the waters of the United States, and ensuring that the vital natural resources our communities depend on are safeguarded for generations to come.

Thank you very much.