Don’t Sink Clean Water Rule To Benefit Industry
As floodwaters once again raged throughout Northeast Pennsylvania recently, all it took was a look out the window to confirm a basic fact of hydrology: Water that enters minor creeks and tributary streams or that overflows from wetlands ends up in bigger and bigger rivers. If the water in those smaller streams is polluted, the pollution ends up in those rivers. Pretty obvious, right? The Trump administration, however, has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the 2015 Waters of the United States rule that would protect those important waters. A federal judge recently blocked the administration’s effort to delay the rule. How important are the waters? One out of every three Americans gets water from public utilities dependent on the “intermittent, ephemeral and headwater streams” protected by the clean water rule. In many parts of the country — such as here in NEPA — nearly 100 percent of public utility water is significantly impacted by streams and other bodies of water covered by the rule. That’s why I, along with more than 800,000 other Americans, spoke up in favor of this rule as it was being proposed. But that’s not to whom this administration listens. Instead, it sides with fossil fuel companies that want to be free to pollute as they extract oil, gas, coal and huge profits from the land. Putting the concerns of the “fat cats” first is nothing new, of course. The prophet Ezekiel (34:18-20) wrote about a situation just like this, though he called them “fat sheep” instead: “Is it not enough for you to graze on choice grazing ground, but you must also trample with your feet what is left from your grazing? And is it not enough for you to drink clear water, but you must also muddy with your feet what is left? And must my flock graze on what your feet have trampled and drink what your feet have muddied? Assuredly, thus said the eternal God to them: ‘Here am I, I will decide between the fat sheep and the lean.’ ” As a rabbi, I’m guessing God is on the side of the “lean,” putting people before profits. It is unjust to enrich the few while befouling drinking water for many. It is also, even from an economic standpoint, unwise. Clean streams not only provide drinking water — they are also are key to billions of dollars worth of business in Pennsylvania, ranging from fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation to our thriving small breweries. The streams and wetlands protected by the clean water rule also provide critical habitats, help reduce flooding and recharge vital groundwater resources. All of these benefits would be put at risk if the clean water rule is rescinded. We in Pennsylvania have been blessed with abundant, beautiful rivers and streams. Indeed, in our state alone, the clean water rule protects more than 10,000 miles of vital streams in addition to thousands of acres of important wetlands. Standing in places like Ricketts Glen in Luzerne, Columbia and Sullivan counties, we can see before our eyes what Isaiah could only dream about: (41:17) : “I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of valleys.” But if these protections are removed, we will be cursing future generations with polluted landscapes and unsafe drinking water. I hope people throughout our state, including our elected officials, will work together to ensure that our blessings remain for our children and their children after them.